Wisconsin Cheese International Sales: Navigating Global Markets For Growth
Demand for cheese from growing markets like Asia and the Middle East, as well as nearby markets in Mexico and Canada, provide a depth of opportunity for Wisconsin cheesemakers looking to expand their sales internationally, according to Rick Findlay, vice president of food service and international business for Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (DFW).
Findlay presented on the “Growth of Cheese Internationally” during a webinar hosted Wednesday, November 1st by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). He noted that a couple of years ago as the cheese industry just was beginning to emphasize international sales, about 7% to 8% of milk production was going toward exports. Two years later, that has more than doubled from 16% to 17%, and as a state, Wisconsin is aiming to eventually see 25% of its production go toward cheese exports.
The Ambitious Targets Of Wisconsin Cheese Companies
“We have some cheese companies that have set internal goals that 50% of their production would be international. That’s huge,” Findlay told the webinar audience.
“Our goal is to grow exporting from where it is today, but we also want the pie to get bigger — sell more in the United States, but also sell more internationally,” he added.
Wisconsin: A Global Dairy Powerhouse
Wisconsin has a great story to share with the world when it comes to cheese, he said. If it were a country, Wisconsin would be the fourth-largest cheese producer in the world. DFW works to promote that cheese on behalf of a little more than 6,000 dairy farmers and approximately 200 cheese companies in the state, which produces more than 600 different varieties.
Wisconsin’s Cheese Strategy
At a macro level, he explained that the United States holds slightly more than 4% of the world’s population, which leaves the remaining 95% to 96% of the international market open to learn about and enjoy Wisconsin’s many varieties of quality cheese.
Mexico And Canada: Strong Markets For U.S. Cheese
Mexico is one of the strongest markets for U.S. cheese, and its proximity is compelling, while demand from Canada also continues to grow despite various barriers and quotas that the U.S. government is attempting to overcome. Newer markets that are growing exponentially can be found in Asia as well as the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) regions, according to Findlay.
Competitive Edge In International Cheese Sales
Furthermore, he noted the United States has the opportunity to take advantage of milk production stagnation among competitors such as the European Union, where environmental restrictions and more plant-based trends have led to declining dairy farms, and in New Zealand, where weather issues such as droughts have impacted milk production.
Future Projections For Dairy Demand And Wisconsin Cheese Production
Meanwhile, he explained that the global demand for dairy is forecasted to improve. While there has been some negative growth in Asia, particularly China, where consumption of milk protein has declined a bit, he notes DFW is very bullish moving forward that over the next three to five years there will be an uptick in dairy consumption, including cheese.
Wisconsin Cheese Production: Expansion To Meet International Demand
“Here in the United States, cheese and dairy companies are beginning to expand their footprint in manufacturing. In the next three to four years, Wisconsin is going to have nine new cheese production facilities coming onboard, including five in the Cheddar space and three in the Italian cheese space,” Findlay said. “There is going to be a new influx of production that will help fill in the international gap.”
U.S. Cheese Goes Global: Beyond Pizza Blends
While many overseas markets are most familiar with U.S. cheese in the form of Italian-style pizza blends, Findlay said there has been an astounding acceptance of new, innovative flavor profiles and styles of cheese, such as Gouda and different styles of Cheddar, as well as cheese curds and “bread cheese” that can be grilled or warmed up.
The Rising Popularity Of Wisconsin Cheese Varieties
“Wisconsin happens to be a huge Cheddar state, and Cheddar shows up in so many forms and flavors. The more robust flavors, the more people love it,” he said.
“Curds are growing, and also this warmed-up Paneer or baking cheese,” he added. “I also want to emphasize Italian cheeses like Burrata and Fresh Mozzarella. This is a new dynamic as far as supply chain goes — you’ve got to work through it very quickly and get it there. We have cheese companies work with distributors, folks who can get it internationally through air.”
Wisconsin Cheese International Sales: A Strategy For Growth
Looking at trends in international demand and opportunity for Wisconsin cheese, Findlay pointed to some of the fastest-growing Asian markets such as Thailand and Korea, where the dairy industry has invested in forming relationships in recent years.
“Asia truly has exploded in the last year, what’s going on in Thailand and Korea, as far as the past 12-24 months,” he said. “We’re relatively new at DFW getting into this international space. We’re hosting some buyers’ missions and brought two groups from Thailand a couple of years ago to visit farms and cheesemakers.”
Showcasing Wisconsin Cheese On The International Stage
Buyers’ missions, he explained, give a home-court advantage to showcase the quality and variety of Wisconsin cheeses.
“We can show them that cheese is in our DNA — it’s in our lifeblood,” Findlay said. “Then we go into their country, to trade shows, and meet with foodservice operations and traders.”
In one recent success, he noted a cheese sampling at a trade show in Germany, where Sartori’s Merlot and Espresso BellaVitano varieties were big winners and helped sell a lot of cheese. In January, DFW will travel to Bangkok to do more demos and advertise the “Proudly Wisconsin Cheese” badge.
Marketing Strategies For Wisconsin Cheese International Expansion
For cheesemakers looking to enter the international market, Findlay advised to first make sure to have an overarching strategy, and to be realistic on the time it will take to foster trade relationships.
“The world’s huge, and you can spin your wheels attempting to get everywhere,” he said. “Decide what’s right for you. What are your specific tactics? Zero in on buyers’ missions, trade shows and then those in-market activations to help drive up sales.” This and other webinars are available to IDDBA members at www.iddba.org. More information and resources for exporting cheese are available at www.wisconsindairy.org
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Source: Cheese Market News