U.S. exports of American cheese, including the processed staple coveted for melty grilled cheese sandwiches, are surging as buyers in Asia can’t get enough.
Shipments increased by 71% from a year earlier to just over 9,000 metric tons, according to data from USDA — the highest since March 2018, reported Bloomberg (Oct. 22).
With that, the global cheese market is forecast to reach $105.9 by 2026, according to a report from Research and Markets, and the Asia Pacific region is projected to record the highest growth rate over the next few years.
WHY IS DEMAND SURGING IN ASIA?
One main reason is the rising adoption of the Western diet.
“Most Asian cuisine doesn’t include cheese, and while Asian consumers certainly do make Western-style meals at home, much of this demand is being driven by restaurants,” said Nate Tsang, founder of stock market analysis site WallStreetZen. “American cheeses (which include Colby, cheddar, and other American styles besides the famous sandwich cheese) typically end up in fast food meals and delivery restaurants that have seen demand increase through COVID.”
This is a newer development as, historically, Asia has had a low consumption of cheese, Shaun Heng, VP of operations at CoinMarketCap, a tracking website for cryptoassets, explained to The Food Institute. “The taste for cheese in Asia is growing,” said Heng. “One reason for this is that many American products are often sold as exotic, novel or luxurious even when Americans don’t think of them that way.”
Exoticness aside, cheese also has an element of being a “forbidden fruit” in Asia, Heng added. China briefly banned the importing of soft cheeses such as brie and Roquefort, but the ban was lifted in 2017.
INTERNATIONAL DEMAND DRIVES MARKET GROWTH
The demand from Asia, as well as other regions, has put The U.S. on track for one of the cheese industry’s best years on record, reported Wisconsin State Farmer (Oct. 12).
On a September 15 episode of Hoard’s Dairyman livestream webcasts, US Dairy Export Council economic analyst Stephen Cain said that global cheese trade is at an all-time high with 2.6 billion pounds sold so far this year, up 10% compared to last year.
“The U.S. is the largest single supplier of cheese to the world, so with that increasing demand, the U.S. is really well-positioned to capitalize on that demand increase and really grow our export numbers in volume overall and capitalizing on increase in market share,” Cain said.
The U.S.’s top trade partners are concentrated in east Asia and Latin America, with the main partners being Japan, South Korea, and Mexico.