Source: Cornish Cheese Co/David Griffen Photography 

The cheesemaker lost 90% of its market overnight when the UK entered lockdown

A Cornwall-based artisan cheesemaker faces having to ditch more than 10 tonnes of short shelf-life cheese by the middle of July unless a new market is found for it.

The Cornish Cheese Co lost 90% of its business at the start of the coronavirus lockdown in March, said owner Philip Stansfield.

The supplier’s cheese was sold on the deli counters of Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose through a distribution deal with wholesaler Bradbury’s. But apart from Morrisons (which continued to sell the product) this route to market and arrangments to sell into the foodservice and hospitality sectors disappeared overnight as the UK entered lockdown.

The loss of business left the family-owned business with an excess 18 tonnes of its Cornish Blue cheese, Stansfield said. And despite considerable efforts to sell or store the product since the end of March, it was now running out of time to find a new home for its remaining stock.

The company had managed to cut and freeze about 2.5 tonnes-worth of cheese for later use in foodservice products such as pasties and pies. “But after 16 weeks it starts to deteriorate, and we still need to do something with more than 10 tonnes of stock,” he said.

Read more: How disastrous is the coronavirus crisis for dairy farmers and processors?

Stansfield’s concerns follow warnings of a “crisis” among small-scale suppliers by the Specialist Cheesemakers Association in April, while the Stilton Cheese Makers’ Association said its producers were facing an uncertain future last month due to plummeting sales.

The likes of Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose have all recently moved to support artisan cheesemakers with new listings. However, Stansfield said more could be done by the major supermarkets to support businesses like his.

Coverage in a Daily Mail article in early May alongside a big social media push and diversification into home delivery had also boosted sales, said Stansfield. Without that effort, “it would have been doubtful the business would have survived”, he suggested.

“But we’ve now had to restart production and room is running out in our freezers. Business is slowly increasing but we’re not sure how much cheese will have to be disposed.”