Posted: 17/12/2019

Trade war tariffs hitting the price of British cheese in USA

Counters at US retailers like Whole Foods Market will have to put up prices of all European cheeses

The price of British artisan cheese in the US is set to soar after President Trump slapped 25% tariffs on dairy products from the UK, as part of a trade disagreement with the EU.

Speciality retailers, such as Whole Foods and Murray’s, have long championed British cheese, but the new tariffs, introduced in October in a dispute between aerospace companies Airbus and Boeing, could seriously hamper future growth with counter prices set to rise between 10-20%.

“The tariffs cover pretty much everything we sell in the US, which is depressing,” said Neal’s Yard Dairy sales director Jason Hinds. “A lot of high-end US cheeses are in the $30/lb range and high-end British and Continental cheeses are approaching that price, so this will close the gap partially or entirely. It’s a real shot in the arm for American cheese.”

At Quickes, where around 40% of production is exported, mostly to the US via distributor Somerdale, head of sales and marketing Tom Chatfield said he expected the retail price of its mature cheddar to rise from around $25/lb to $30/lb in the New Year.

“People who already know us and like our flavour profile will stick with us,” he said. “But if they are not already familiar with the distinction between Old World and New World cheddars, they might just buy American. It could inhibit our ability to grow quite considerably.” 

The US has applied $7.5bn worth of tariffs to various European cheeses, including Roquefort, Parmesan and Manchego, as well as other foods, whisky, clothes, tools and even ovens in a long-running fight over EU subsidies for Airbus, which have put US rival Boeing at a disadvantage.

The tariffs will be reviewed after 120 days and could be retained, increased or switched to different goods to hurt other sectors.

“I fear that when the next review comes there could be another increase in sight, then all of sudden it really is problematic,” said Hinds. “What’s really frustrating is that this is nothing to do with cheese.”

The uncertainty is already starting to have an impact, said Chatfield. “Discussions about new business and new listings have gone very quiet. People are saying they’ll wait and see in the New Year whether products are still viable with the new prices, which is pretty tricky.” 

This story appeared in the December issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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