French cheese has overtaken Irish as the most imported cheese into the UK, and French producers are now launching a wide-reaching promotional campaign to consolidate their success.

Cheese from France now accounts for 112,085 tonnes - or almost one third of the total 400,000 tonnes imported into the UK [Eurostat].

After running second to Ireland for many years, French imports were almost double their 2004 level of 64,000 tonnes, while Irish cheese fell from 97,000 tonnes four years ago to 89,000 tonnes last year.

Traditional French favourites Brie, Camembert and Emmental led the increase, with UK value sales of Brie rising 1% to £37.8m, Camembert increasing 2% to £9.2m, and Emmental up 14% to £11.1m.

The success of French blue, soft rind, goats and ewes milk cheeses has been a welcome boost to retail sales amid tough global dairy market conditions, according to Sally Budd, senior account manager for Fine Cheeses from France.

The popularity of regional food is also boosting French cheese, she said, with consumers able to buy branded regional cheeses from Burgundy or Normandy.

French producers are targeting growth with a wide-reaching campaign aimed at retail. Waitrose is currently running a French Cheese Showcase fronted by Michelin-starred chef Pascal Aussignac, which includes special offers, promotions, linked sales and in-store demonstrations. This will be followed by tastings in Morrisons and talks are under way with other retailers for further promotions.

The campaign, which will run until the end of the year, will also include ads in national media, competitions and website support.

"French cheeses form the heart of today's Continental offering and in a slower-growing market there's never been a better time to support cheeses that shoppers will pay more for because of their provenance," said Budd.