Switzerland to import more cheese than it exports for the first time ever
In what may prove a shock for fans of Swiss cheese around the world, Switzerland is set to record its first-ever fromage trade deficit, meaning the country will import more cheese than it exports in 2023. While the residents of the alpine nation are eating more cheese than ever, the head of the Organisation of Swiss Milk Producers (Swissmilk) has warned that local farmers have failed to benefit from the higher demand.
Despite high demand, Swiss cheesemakers lose out
As the land of fondue and raclette, it’s little surprise that the Swiss are huge fans of cheese. This love of all things dairy also appears to be growing, as according to the latest data reported by Swissinfo, annual cheese consumption rose to 22,9 kilograms per person in 2022.
However, in an interview with Le Temps, the president of Swissmilk Boris Beuret announced that 2023 will be the first time ever that Switzerland imports more cheese than it exports. His forecast follows a report from the Gruyère Varieties Organisation which predicted that cheese exports will decline from the end of June 2023, with total cheese production for the year falling by 10 percent.
Cheaper cheese imports hurt cheese industry in Switzerland
Beuret blamed the phenomenon on a market "liberalisation process that began at the end of the 1990s.” He noted that since 2007, Swiss cheese has lost 12 percent of its market share to cheese imported more easily from overseas, adding that amid rising demand and fewer people farming, Swiss cheesemakers and especially milk producers have reached their production limits.
“If we want to meet the population's food needs effectively, we need to continue producing milk throughout the country,” Beuret added. “Otherwise, we'll end up importing it, which would be an economic, social and ecological absurdity”, he argued, explaining that 80 percent of Swiss agricultural areas are already devoted to dairy production.
Customers need to be prepared to pay more, says Swissmilk
Specifically, the president took aim at Swiss supermarkets and their price margins on milk. An investigation by Le Temps in 2022 revealed that many dairy farmers are having to sell their milk at a loss amid high inflation, and the two largest stores, Coop and Migros, are still making high profits off the fruits of their labour.
Beuret concluded that for the industry to thrive, prices for Swiss milk and cheese will have to rise.“I'm convinced that consumers are ready to understand that we need to be properly remunerated if we are to continue in this direction [of sustainable production]...If we do nothing, we will end up having to import milk,” he concluded.