If you are experiencing sticker shock looking at cheese prices today, just be glad you’re not buying your favorite cheeses in Shanghai or here in the United States five years hence. As Chinese citizens continue to acquire a taste for western foods and beverages (read: cheese and wine) the prices for quality wines have risen; the price of many of the best known cheeses will certainly rise as well. Their per capita cheese consumption is still far lower than ours but in a country with four times the population of the United States and a doubling of cheese consumption every seven years (compared to our trebling of consumption in forty years) we expect cheese price inflation to be inevitable. Import of French cheeses and wines has been strong; eventually this will occur with other great cheese and wine producing countries, including the United States.
One might ask why China cannot satisfy its cheese appetite from domestic producers. With the growing dairy industry in that country we might assume they would be better able to fulfill demand. As it now stands, part of the problem is that milk prices are higher in China than elsewhere. There is a perception that imported cheese is superior to domestic cheese.
A huge problem with the Chinese dairy industry is the concern with quality: poor production practices, inadequate milk collection, a lack of technical expertise, and outdated technologies and equipment. This is all changing but there is a lingering perception that Chinese dairy products are inferior and unsafe. Several recent dairy related food safety incidences have hurt the domestic industry while causing a surge in imports. Granted, much of what is imported is powdered milk product and liquid milk, not cheese. As the taste for the best things in life take hold in China, as well as the rest of Asia, this will change.