UK wholesale prices

Updated 25 February 2021

Indicative average prices for butter, skimmed milk powder (SMP) and mild Cheddar cheese on UK wholesale markets. Bulk cream prices are weighted average prices on agreed trades within the reporting period.

Note there has been a change in the methodology for determining the bulk cream price from January 2021.

Information on prices and market conditions is gathered through a monthly phone survey of dairy product sellers, traders and buyers. Panel discussions cover prices on spot trades agreed within the reporting period and delivered within a maximum of 2 weeks for bulk cream and 6 weeks for butter, SMP or cheese. 

For butter, skimmed milk powder (SMP) and mild Cheddar, prices are indicative of values achieved for spot trades and exclude contracted prices or forward sales.

For bulk cream, a weighted average price will now be reported. This is based on submissions of an average price for agreed spot trades made within the reporting period along with total volumes traded. Data is entered by panel members via the AHDB online wholesale price portal.

Overview

(weeks 4- 7: 25 January – 21 February 2021) 

Markets were described as relatively quiet over the past four weeks, although with gentle firming for some products. The additional costs of trade, along with some resistance to UK sourced product on the continent, means UK prices have not matched those available in EU markets, particularly for fresh products, such as bulk cream and butter.

For those able to place product outside of the GB market, higher prices have been available, although rises have been limited by the strengthening of sterling against the euro.

Bulk cream markets firmed steadily over the past four weeks, with a two-tiered market developing. While challenges remain in sending fresh product to the EU, it was reported that product is being exported, albeit in lower volumes than before Brexit.

For product which remained in the GB market, product traded in the £1,300-£1,350/tonne range, with a gentle climb though the period. An additional £50-£80/tonne could be achieved for product placed on EU or NI markets. This differential is likely to remain a feature as Rules of Origin concerns by EU manufacturers will limit demand for UK-sourced product.

The average weighted price on spot trades of bulk cream over the reporting period was £1,335/tonne, up 7.9% on the previous weighted average. The average is slightly lower than what the indicative value would have been based solely on panel discussions, due to the relatively lower volumes achieving the higher ‘export’ prices.

Butter prices firmed slightly over the period, pulled up by the higher cream prices, good export demand and continued strong retail sales. However, the higher value of sterling, and limited domestic demand did subdue the increases.

As with cream, quoted prices diverged according to end destination. Those selling into the EU markets achieved prices in the range of £3,100-£3,200/tonne on the back of strong demand there. With globally competitive prices and strong retail demand, butter prices on the continent have been firming.

Prices achieved within GB markets were lower by around £50/tonne as buying interest was weak. Most customers are said to be holding good stocks in light of pre-Brexit preparations. Further dampening demand is the approach of the peak, keeping many buyers away from the market in anticipation of potentially lower prices.

Quoted prices moved up by £25-£100/tonne from last month, depending on the end market. The indicative price for the UK market increased £90/tonne on average to £3,150/tonne.

SMP prices saw a small increase of £30/tonne compared to the last period. Strong global demand for protein, and globally competitive prices have kept markets firm. However, currency movements have limited the impact of these price rises within the UK market.

Mild cheddar prices remained unchanged in February with no changes to market fundamentals. Retail sales remain strong, and foodservice demand is not expected to change significantly until later in the year.

Additional information

The December quote included prices on spot trades agreed between 1 - 21 December, delivered within a 2-week window for bulk cream and a 6-week window for storable products. 

Prices for bulk cream were not weighted by traded volumes prior to January 2021. 

The published prices will not necessarily match the overall actual price achieved by a milk processor as this will depend, amongst other things, on the proportion of product that is sold on the spot market and the proportion sold under longer term contracts and at what price this is done. The “average” prices should be used to track trends while the commentary will contain prices seen through the month.

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UK wholesale prices
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