Cheese exports to UAE double – but bigger slice a possibility

Friday, 2 October 2020

The United Arab Emirates represents an important market for the UK’s cheese exports, with shipments to the region doubling in the last ten years.

However, despite being regarded as a key supplier in the UAE and a provider of high-quality products, the UK still only exports a modest amount of cheese in comparison to other countries such as the USA and New Zealand.

In 2018, the UAE imported around 73,000 tonnes of cheese, with just three per cent coming from the UK. But according to Caroline Dawson, of Promar International, opportunities exist to increase the UK’s market share even further.

Her findings form part of a Defra-commissioned report - ‘UAE Market for Selected UK Food and Drink Products’ – which was produced to help industry better understand the food and drink opportunities in this important market.

In a recent AHDB dairy export webinar, Caroline took an in-depth look at the report, which used the results of 25 interviews in the UAE as well as five retail store audits.

Caroline said: “In the UAE, you see a strong UK influence in the retail sector and our products are respected and recognised as being of a high quality. We saw at least seven suppliers of UK cheese during our retail audit, but there are potentially more.

“While the UAE is a key market, there are challenges for UK exporters, such as strong competition from other countries like France, where the cost of producing cheese is lower. And while there is already a proliferation of UK suppliers all chasing a somewhat limited market, I believe there is still the potential to grow our exports even further.”

With a population of 9.6 million, the UAE is an important market for dairy exports, with high demand for mild and processed cheese. In 2018, the UK shipped 2,400 tonnes of cheese, up from 1,200 tonnes ten years earlier – most of which was cheddar and a small amount of goat’s cheese.

While some well-known UK brands have a strong presence on the supermarket shelves, there remains strong competition around the world due to a five per cent tariff on all countries except those within the Gulf Corporation Council, which has a zero tariff.

AHDB’s Senior Export Manager Lucy Randolph said: “The UAE is an incredibly important market for our cheese exports and it is vital that we continue to work with our exporters to increase our market share.

“The Defra-commissioned report gave us crucial insight into the trends and needs of the UAE population. We were delighted to be the first to showcase this vital research which will hopefully equip existing and new exporters with the information they need to succeed in this important market.”

Read more about AHDB's export work

Lucy Randolph

Senior Exports Manager (Dairy)