Cheese drives China's dairy imports but not always for 'traditional' uses

Dairy hasn’t traditionally been a staple in people's diets in China.
Dairy hasn’t traditionally been a staple in people's diets in China.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

With cream cheese undergoing a steady surge in popularity in Asia, New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra is building two new cream cheese factories and has opened a new mozzarella factory to meet the demand.

New Zealand‑made Fonterra cheese is already topping more than half the pizzas made in China and a new production plan in Australia will see Fonterra sending even more mozzarella to China, as demand continues to ramp up for western-style diets.

It's spending NZ$150m on two cream cheese plants and Fonterra’s Director of Global Foodservice, Grant Watson, says the investment is a timely one as more and more consumers across Asia develop a preference for milk‑based products.

“What’s really promising are the trends we’re seeing in cheese, butter and UHT over the years – not just in the sale of dairy products, but how they are being consumed.

"Particularly as the major urban centres in China shift away from oils, people are actively seeking more dairy in their diet whether in their cooking, as a table spread or in a glass.”

He said that in markets like China, where dairy hasn’t traditionally been a staple, there are fewer pre‑conceived notions around how it should be eaten, and Fonterra is seeing remarkable versatility in their dairy applications.

“Arguably some of the most innovative dairy product development anywhere in the world is happening right now in China."

Dairy beverages such as tea macchiato – which mixes tea with cream and cream cheese – are evidence of a willingness to be bolder with dairy applications, he said.

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Some 40pc of people in urban China now eat at Western‑style fast food outlets once a week, and the use of dairy in foodservice has grown by over 30pc in five years according to a Nielson survey.

“As disposable incomes rise in China, spending on dining-out is growing, and pizza is a very popular menu choice. They want the extra stretch, softness and flavour of our mozzarella made with high‑quality Australian milk," Fonterra Australia’s Managing Director René Dedoncker said.

“This supports our strategy to be Fonterra’s global hub for cheese, whey and nutritionals” says René.

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