Cheese Report 2022: Sustainability and dairy-free

19 August 2022, 07:24 AM
  • As consumers seek out sustainability in their food, cheesemongers are being mindful of their carbon footprint, food waste and providing dairy-free options
Cheese Report 2022: Sustainability and dairy-free

Being more environmentally minded is at the forefront of all food businesses and some, like The Pangbourne Cheese Shop, have already invested in electric vehicles for deliveries. This is a smart strategy as it not only keeps the business more sustainable, it also cuts down on those rising fuel costs.

It’s something the cheese sector is seeing in all aspects of the business, from production right through to sales. By 2025 85% of dairy farmers will be following expert advice to optimise feed plans, which is directly linked to reduced emissions.

Optimising feed plans also reduces waste, which reduces costs. At Curd & Cure they’re also seeing the benefits of going green. “We work with our customers to ensure deliveries are kept to a minimum, delivering to specific delivery areas on set days of the week,” says commercial manager Jessica Honey.

“We are also in the process of investing in new routing software to ensure our routes are planned as efficiently as possible. This will help offset the additional costs involved with transporting goods and ensure we are keeping our carbon footprint to a minimum.

“Sustainability features heavily at the heart of all that we do, and this works hand in hand with efficiencies in delivering product. As well as ensuring we are constantly reviewing our own environmental impact, the partnership with more dairies helps to reduce their costs as deliveries are consolidated to us and delivered to the customer as part of a wider basket of products.”

Jessica sees this push forward with sustainability as the path to the future of the business. It has a knock-on effect to all corners of Curd & Cure. “Sustainability within the business also links back to keeping our prices competitive, through initiates which limit waste such as upcycling products, including Stilton and Cheddar used in our Rescue Range Soups, working with Too Good To Go to create ‘magic bags’ containing end of shelf life products as well as working closely with our supplier dairies to monitor and manage supply and demand in real-time across all product lines.”

These initiatives fight back against the cost of living crisis in the same multi-pronged way as the crisis hits businesses. By using surplus ingredients in their Rescue Range they cut down on waste, and by working with Too Good To Go they claw back some of the costs that are lost in food waste. These savings feed back into the business and help Curd & Cure keep their prices at a reasonable level.

A dairy free for all
Tying into sustainability is dairy-free alternatives to traditional cheese, which has been steadily increasing in demand. In its earlier incarnation vegan cheese wasn’t much like cheese at all and much of it didn’t taste great. This gave it a bad reputation and growth in this area slowed down after an initial surge.

“We saw a huge drop in sales of vegan cheese during the lockdown periods,” says Jen Grimstone-Jones. “Whereas we were selling more of everything else in the shop at this time, the vegan cheese sales fell off a cliff.”

But now everything is changing. Cheesemakers are perfecting their recipes and vegan cheese is not just good now, it’s really good. It’s a slow area of growth and many retailers are still finding it hard to sell, but the seeds that have been planted are starting to bloom. The global vegan cheese market size is projected to reach a CAGR of 16% during 2022-2028. It might feel like slow progress, but it’s a safe bet for the future.

“Sales have begun to pick up again but not quite to the same levels as we were seeing before,” says Jen. “Our minimum order quantity has gone up with our vegan supplier so we often struggle to meet it, but we will only sell products that we would eat ourselves and at the moment we only sell KindaCo products.”

For other retailers it’s all about choice, and at Curd & Cure, they’ve found the more varieties of vegan cheese they carry, from a wide range of producers, the better for the customer. “Vegan cheese is a market we have seen grow exponentially and anticipate this growth continuing,” says Jessica Honey.

“From when we first began listing vegan cheese around five years ago, the variety and quality has come on leaps and bounds. We now list around 50-plus varieties of vegan cheeses and alternative dairy products and have worked hard to find the very best producers in the country who are extremely skilled in what they do.

“Again, there are parallels with dairy cheese, and whilst we anticipate that consumers will be looking for options with lower price points, which we offer as part of this range, we are still seeing much demand for artisan, British-produced vegan cheese which demands a higher price point.”

It’s a point they’ve seen in action at Rowcliffe. Whether the higher price of vegan cheese wins out with customers who have more focused needs, is yet to be seen.

“Vegan cheese is very much a growing trend, but quality alternatives are expensive,” says Sunit Mehta, managing director. “Therefore, we can expect a similar impact on sales to that which we have seen in dairy cheese.”

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