Cheese will be the “underperformer” of the global dairy market over the coming years, with growth rates lagging behind those of other dairy products, according to a new report from Rabobank.

At the same time, demand for whey – a by-product of cheese production – will strongly increase, setting the whey market up for a “structural tightening” in the years ahead.

The Dutch bank said it expected global cheese consumption to increase by 1.6% each year between now and 2015, compared with an average growth rate of 2.5% for other dairy products.

Low projected volume growth was largely down to cheese being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said the Global Dairy Outlook report.

“Most of the world’s cheese is still consumed in North America and Western Europe, and in these regions, consumption has been slowing for some time,” the report said. “With population growth set to slow further and a period of economic stagnation ahead, the rate of sales growth is likely to be very modest over the medium term.”

Although emerging markets are expected to consume an increasing amount of dairy products over the coming years, cheese is typically not one of the first products to be adopted in those markets, with liquid, powdered and condensed milk, dairy drinks, yoghurts and infant milk formula finding it easier to gain market share.

“Acquiring a taste for cheese typically comes later, and in many of these countries is still very rare,” Rabobank said.

Key exceptions to the trend would be Argentina, Brazil and the Middle East, where cheese was already popular and populations were growing, the bank added. “These will be coveted opportunities in the coming years.”

By contrast, Rabobank expected “strong growth” for whey over the medium term, particularly for premium whey products, driven in part by growing demand for infant milk formula as more women in emerging markets joined the workforce.

“With demand for higher-end whey products more generally likely to grow faster than cheese demand (and hence production) in the coming years, whey supply will be highly coveted,” the bank said. “The whey market looks headed for a structural tightening.”