The glory of an impressive Cathedral City

Cathedral City has proven that its propulsion to the top of the cheese category in The Grocer's Top Products Survey 2007 was no fleeting achievement.

The brand has maintained its position in a difficult year for suppliers. In fact, it has not just held its position, it has extended its lead, growing sales 26.3% year-on-year to £180.2m. This year it also launched its first-ever vintage offer, Cathedral City Vintage 20, and retailers predict further success for the brand in 2009. "I think Cathedral City will remain the number one brand throughout 2009," says David Rowland, senior buying manager for total cheese at Tesco.

However, though the category was up 11.5% as a whole, breaking through the £2bn barrier, some brands did not fare so well. Of the top 20 cheeses, Anchor Cheddar experienced the second-sharpest drop in sales over the past year, falling 31% from £11.4m to £7.9m, and three places to 14th place.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Anchor Cheddar is to be withdrawn, with manufacturer Arla Foods claiming it will instead prioritise Apetina and Castello, having launched Castello Black in the UK this autumn. Arla's decision is timely as Apetina has fallen 15% in sales value year-on-year, although it has climbed one place to 18th.

Top Launch - Spilt Cow (Fayrefield Foods) 
What does a dairy company do when 'higher welfare' moves up the consumer's buying agenda? It launches the only RSPCA Freedom Food-accredited Cheddar on the market and names it Spoilt Cow. Launched in February by Fayrefield Foods, 5p from each sale is donated to Freedom Food. It may occupy a niche within the category, but Fayrefield believes its use of a top-tier handmade Cheddar adds to its appeal.
Pilgrims Choice has shown the most impressive increase in sales, at 62.1%, climbing from seventh to sixth place. Although a significant part of this growth is recovery - sales fell 31% between 2006 and 2007 - the brand benefited from a big push on promotional activity compared with 2007, including a TV ad campaign. The introduction of recloseable packs in August also helped, says North Downs Dairy MD Mike Davies.

In addition, Pilgrims Choice had more weeks on promotion at Tesco than any other cheese brand, adds Rowland.

Wyke Farms stayed at eighth position in this year's ranking, with sales of £25.8m, a 30.2% rise in value from £19.8m in 2007. One to watch, Wyke Farms announced plans in October to become the top cheese brand within five years following a £5m award from the Bank of Scotland.

Next year won't be easy. Much of this year's growth can be attributed to rising costs and concerns over future milk supply. Shortages have escalated, with cheesemakers becoming increasingly worried about the volume of raw milk available for cheesemaking, and the price at which it will come. However the category as a whole is well placed to ride out the recession.

View The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey