The popularity of Dutch cheese in the UK is on the up after a marked slowdown in sales and exports in the 1990s.
After its hey-day in the 1980s when the Dutch were exporting 20,000 tonnes of cheese to the UK, the sector is recovering to witness a revival in Dutch cheeses.
According to Leo den Hamer, country manager UK for Frico Cheese, part of Royal Friesland Foods, over the past five years consumption of Dutch cheese in the UK has increased by 40%.
“During the 1990s there was a decline in Dutch cheese consumption in the UK. Because of this Frico decided to do something about it through extensive new product development and increased marketing support,” he explains.
“In 1999 we developed new products especially for the UK, starting with Organic Edam, launched with a promotional campaign called ‘New Balls Please’ after the famous tennis calls.”
Other products such as Matured Edam, Red Hot Dutch, Herbey Dutch and Old Dutch Master have also been successfully launched in the UK, he says, with the most popular Dutch cheese in the UK still being Dutch Edam balls. This new approach to business has helped the Dutch cheese sector, says the British Cheese Board.
“Dutch cheese producers have taken a marketing approach to business by trying to understand what British people like,” says BCB secretary Nigel White. “They have woken up to the fact that the British palate has changed from mild to mature.”
Producers are also cashing in on the popularity of blended cheeses in the UK by offering blended varieties of cheese to consumers, White adds, while sliced cheeses are also popular.
Den Hamer notes that more consumers are seeking convenience products to fit into their busy lifestyles: “The total slices market grew 11% in 2004 and the Continental slices market grew 50%,” he says.
Asda is making the most of the growth in this market. Jonathan Betts, a cheese buyer for Asda, explains: “Sliced cheeses are great for convenience. Sliced Edam and Gouda have spearheaded growth of the natural convenience segment. The Dutch have been in sliced cheese for years, so they are super-efficient and well ahead on packaging technology.
“Dutch slices lead the pack with growth of more than 30% and we sell more Edam slices than Cheddar slices,” he adds.
Betts believes that Dutch cheeses are popular in the UK because they are versatile and are lower in fat than Cheddar cheeses. Dutch mild-flavoured cheeses are popular with children.
And he says that they are so popular for the retailer that it is planning to increase its range of Dutch cheeses significantly in mid-September.
“We significantly over-trade and last year grew our total sales by 21%, leaving the rest of the market trailing. Our customers love the great value they get with Edam and have enjoyed our first-to-market opportunities with new flavours and pack formats,” says Betts.