China is developing a taste for cheese, but the UK is falling behind New Zealand, Australia and the rest of Europe when it comes to sending the dairy product over there.
Until recently, cheese was viewed as a luxury product in China, but the market for it is growing fast as more and more affluent and urban consumers are able to afford it on a regular basis.
According to research firm CCM, in the first ten months of 2014 China imported 56,028 tonnes from other countries, which represented a 47 per cent year-on-year increase.
But because it is a relatively new trend in China, the country doesn't make much of the product itself – this means it is reliant on imports from other countries.
While the UK is not as famous for its cheeses as many of its European neighbours, its contribution to China's total imports is still surprisingly small – in 2014, it sent 44 tonnes there, which was less than one per cent of the total.
This was also less than half of Italy or France's volume of cheese exports to China. In Europe, other countries coming ahead of the UK were Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Even Ireland exported more cheese to China than the UK did.
But all of Europe fell behind the US, Australia and New Zealand – the five biggest European exporters combined constituted less than one fifth of the amount exported from New Zealand in 2014.
This is in part driven by the strategic advantages held by US and Australasian suppliers over their European competitors, including New Zealand and Australia's superior market access due to its free trade agreement with China, and lower freight costs for New Zealand, Australian, and some US suppliers.
Another reason for Europe's falldown is China's preference for processed cheese – they are not so keen on the higher value Roqueforts and Gruyeres favoured by Europeans.