When it comes to the cheese board, continental varieties such as Brie, Camembert and Emmental were once the height of sophistication. But latest research from MINTEL finds that cheese buffs today are no longer forking out as much as they once were on these varieties, and are instead going crackers for good old British regionals, such as Lancashire, Cheshire and Red Leicester.
Sales of regional British cheese* increased as much as 16% between 2004 and 2006, to reach £220 million, with growth here outpacing the likes of soft and continental cheese.
"With growing interest in environmental and ethical concerns we are becoming increasingly interested in the origin of our food. As a result we are seeing a growing trend towards ‘buying British’, which has provided a huge boost for sales of British regional cheese," comments David Bird, Senior Consumer Analyst.
"Many varieties of regional British cheese have extended their ranges by adding fruits, liqueurs and even curry. This has really caught the imagination of cheese customers and has lead to the rise in sales of locally produced cheese," he adds.
Meanwhile, although volume sales of continental cheese have continued to rise, value sales have really lost their way, as market value fell 7% between 2004 and 2006 to £340 million.
"Continental cheese such as Brie used to be seen as a luxury for special occasions. But today many continental varieties are now more an everyday staple than an occasional treat. This has inevitably brought prices down and as a result market value has declined, despite rising volume sales," explains David Bird.
Although British regional cheese has seen the greatest growth, cheddars from the UK and abroad accounted for over half (52%) of all cheese sales in the UK last year, having grown 7% between 2004 and 2006 to reach £985 million. What is more, this year sales of the humble block of cheddar will hit the £1 billion mark for the first time ever.
"Cheddars have clearly stood the test of time and are now still very much a British staple. The market has done well to see growth despite heavy discounting and many buy-one-get-one-free offers in the supermarkets," comments David Bird.
Overall, the British cheese market was worth £1.9 billion in 2006, having increased 4% between 2004 and 2006. Sales are set to rise to £1.93 billion this year, no mean feat considering the trend towards healthy eating.
* Cheese which originates from a specific region within Great Britain. Does not include Cheddar (dealt with separately)