Rising milk costs fuelling huge artisan price increases
The price of artisan cheese is rocketing as producers battle huge increases in the price of milk.
The average farm-gate price of cows’ milk has soared by 20% in the past year driven by a surge in fertiliser, feed and fuel costs linked to Covid, Brexit and the war in Ukraine.
In February 2022, the price stood at just under 36p per litre, up from 29p a year before, but prices could hit as much as 45p by the summer, according to dairy consultant John Allen, managing partner at Kite Consulting.
“The market is a very tough place at the moment,” he said. “Milk supply is tight and the cost of production has gone up. That’s not going to change in the short term, so there will be more price rises down the line.”
Small cheesemakers are being hit hard because they do not have the economies of scale or negotiating power of larger manufacturers, with many simply forced to pass on the increases. Independent retailers contacted by FFD said wholesale cheese prices for British and Continental cheeses had increased 10-20% and further rises are expected.
At Burt’s Cheese in Cheshire, owner Clare Burt said the farm she buys milk from had implemented a 20% price rise in April.
“We’ve seen energy, cardboard, cultures and courier costs going up, but the milk increase is a real wallop,” she said. “It’s made me feel vulnerable as a business.”
She added that she was considering how to pass on price rises. “There has to be an increase, but it’s hard to know how much customers will accept.”
At sheep’s cheese company Yorkshire Pecorino, owner Mario Olianas will have to pay £1.30 a litre from May, up from £1 six months ago – a 30% hike.
“A lot of small cheesemakers will think again about working with sheep’s milk at these prices,” he said.
Cheesemakers with their own animals are partly protected because they do not have to buy milk in, but are still contending with a surge in costs.
“Feed, labour and energy bills have all risen massively,” said Ross Davenport, partner at Cote Hill Cheese in Lincolnshire, which has a 75-strong herd of cows. “It’s costing a lot more to produce a kilo of cheese than it was six months ago, so price increase letters have now gone out to customers.”