British Cheddar brands are keen to push their UK provenance as a key USP - especially against Irish imports - but almost half of cheese consumers have no preference between British and Irish Cheddar, a new report has suggested.

In research by Mintel with 1,402 UK adults who buy and eat cheese, 48% agreed with the statement ‘I have no preference between buying British or Irish Cheddar.’

Provenance concerns are high on the agenda for the British dairy industry because the removal of EU milk quotas next April could lead to a substantial increase in Irish dairy exports to the UK. British cheese could struggle to compete on price, and the research suggests that for many consumers, provenance would not be reason enough to pay more.

“We know that the Irish want to produce more milk, and it appears that they’re capable of doing so when the quotas go,” said Mintel senior food analyst Richard Ford, who authored the report. “We know that price is important to consumers - this suggests that origin alone is not enough for them. It suggests that Cheddar makers need to use another point of difference to attract consumers.”

The study threw up suggestions for what that point of difference might be: 20% of respondents said they would be willing to pay more for cheese if they knew the farmer was paid a fair price, and 19% would pay extra if cows are reared to a high welfare standards.

“All those cheese makers who are sourcing milk from cows kept in a high welfare system could seek to use that as a point of difference,” said Ford.

He also suggested cheesemakers could draw more attention to their use of natural ingredients. Just 20% of consumers believed non-processed cheese was made from all-natural ingredients, suggesting a lack of awareness of how cheese is made.