Commanding a place in the premium section of the major multiples’ cheese fixtures has helped to keep retail price-cutting at bay for Belton Cheese’s Belton Farm brand.
But MD Justin Beckett is still conscious of how major retailers’ propensity for deep discounting affects his business, especially as a lot of Belton’s cheese sells under the major multiples’ own brands.
“Territorial cheese sales were up 8% in volume last year, ahead of an overall market at 2%. But the value has not increased by the same.
“This is mainly due to the multibuys that the supermarkets are running, which are devaluing something that is a very specialist, niche, artisan product.
“It is more expensive to make and we have to be careful that this doesn’t have an impact in the long term on the quality.”
Belton uses milk from rare breed cows to hand-make a range of artisan territorial English cheeses to age-old recipes. It produces about 100 tonnes a week of eight English regional cheese varieties.
Cheeses are aged for up to 12 months, and feature in premium ranges at Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Somerfield and Tesco.
The company won 60 awards last year alone with volume sales up 12%. Its Cheshire cheese sales benefited from a promotional campaign, backed by Belton, that produced a 10% increase in volume sales of that variety.
Big increases in energy costs have had an effect on packing, distribution and haulage costs for the Shropshire-based company.
“We have to be careful because we can only absorb that for so long and we are concerned about erosion of our margins,” says Beckett.
Greg Meenehan