As global demand for cheese continues to rise, so do cheese exports to the United States.
The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of global cheese markets should average about 4.2 percent through 2020, according to market research specialist TechNavio.
In the U.S., meanwhile, sales of natural and specialty cheeses now top $17 billion annually, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. Per-capita consumption also is on the rise — by 2025, the average American will consume about 37 pounds annually, according to Statista.
When it comes to imported cheese, both the volume and value of cheeses exported to the U.S. rose annually from 2013 to 2015, reaching 200 million kilograms worth about $1.3 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
In 2016, however, while volumes rose, to 205 million kilograms, the value of cheese imports dropped slightly, to $1.26 billion.
At the grocery instore level, meanwhile, marketers of imported cheese continue to see the differentiation and value imports provide to the category.
Bergland Cheese USA LLC markets imported cheese under the Bergland brand and other labels owned by its parent company, Hochland AG.
Lincoln Park, New Jersey-based Bergland imports Bergland-branded Bavarian swiss, Bavarian and Greek feta and a line of grilling cheeses from Germany.
Other branded product imported from Bergland includes Almonta cheese spread, packed in a container that looks like a wooden keg and available in a variety of flavors — Original, Fine Herbs, Light Chives, Light Yogurt, Tomato & Pesto, Apricot & Vanilla and Blueberry & Raspberry.
Bergland’s French cheeses sold in the United States include a triple cream brie and a rouge shipped under the Belletoile label and Henri Hutin-branded brie couronne, which the company bills as the only lactic brie on the market.
Among Bergland’s more exotic U.S. offerings is its Transylvanian Cave Cheese, aged in salt mines in Transylvania and marketed in Halloween-themed packs.
In addition to its branded offerings for U.S. grocery store delis, Bergland also packs in private labels for some customers, says Sebastian Roettger, Bergland’s president and CEO.
Imported cheese sales in the U.S. are on the rise, driven by at least a couple of factors, Roettger says.
“The demand for premium private label options is definitely growing. And demand for new, differentiated cheeses is also up. It’s a clear ‘yes’ for growth.”
U.S. consumers of imported cheese can look forward to high-quality product at lower prices, Roettger says, due to significant changes in the retail grocery industry (see ALDI and LIDL).
“I believe that the German discounters will be growing in the U.S., bringing in more interesting imported items at affordable prices for everyone,” Roettger says. “All other grocery stores will need to carry differentiated items plus cover the same items.”
“Our Transylvanian Cave Cheese gets great appreciation, and our Belletoile Triple Cream Brie has been doing great in the U.S. for over 25 years,” he says. “The same is true for our Brie Couronne.”
Bergland also is making “good progress” in the U.S. on its Almonta line, which was introduced in 2016, Roettger says. That’s encouraging, he says, given the stiff competition.
“There is a huge amount of imported cheeses in almost every store. Standing out, especially with new items, is tough. Also the process of getting new items authorized takes very long in many cases, and sometimes the shelf life is also tricky.”
When it comes to the packaging of imported cheese, premium design and convenience are top of mind for U.S. retailers, Roettger says. As for another front-burner trend — clean-label, and health awareness in general — Bergland is well positioned.
“Our lines are all natural and rBST-free, therefore everything from Bergland is absolutely in line with this trend,” Roettger says. “Obviously we are trying to make sure that we can deliver this to our retail partners as well as the American consumers.”
Imports tell a story
At Austin, Texas-based retail chain Whole Foods Market, the selection of imported cheeses varies depending on the store and market, says Cathy Strange, the company’s global cheese buyer.
But the popularity of imports isn’t in doubt, Strange says: at any given time, most Whole Foods stores carry more than 100 cheeses from other countries, strengthening an already strong category.
“Domestic cheeses, with the increase of quality manufacturing, are seeing solid growth, and the classic cheeses of the world continue to hold market share,” she says.
To promote imported cheeses, Whole Foods makes sure consumers know where product is sourced from and that it’s hand-selected, Strange says.
“We want our customers to know the story of each product, and the partnerships in place with cheese producers everywhere.”
In addition, Strange and others work hard to ensure that Whole Foods’ imported cheese program maintains other standards, she says. Transparency, a focus on organic product and a commitment to quality are all vital to the category’s success.
“We’re extremely proud of our partnerships with all producers, the selections we have in our stores and the talented cheesemongers behind the cheese counter who are equally passionate about the products we’re bringing to shoppers.”
A Personal Touch
Coming to U.S. retailers this fall is a new line of signature French cheeses from renowned cheesemonger Roland Barthélemy.
The Roland Barthélemy Signature Collection from Savencia Cheese USA LLC, a subsidiary of French-based Groupe Savencia, features eight “haute fromagerie” cheeses new to the U.S. Grocers including Whole Foods, Wegmans and Fairway are expected to begin stocking the line this fall. It will also be available at Murrays Cheese Shop, which was purchased in February by retail giant Kroger.
The Barthélemy cheeses imported by Savencia Cheese USA, formerly Alouette Cheese, come from artisanal cheesemakers, farms and small shops throughout France, with each cheese reflecting its region’s individual personalities, Barthélemy says. Offerings range from cheeses aged in stone cellars to a double crème aged with a wine cork.
“This collection features delectable cheese with unique stories and processes that previously were nonexistent in the United States.
The eight cheeses in the line include La Fromage au Bouchon, Le Montagnard des Vosges, Le Bleu de la Boissiere, Le Severac, Esquirrou, Etorki Reserve, Maroilles Fauquet and Boursault.