Belfast Telegraph

Falling euro is sparking fears for Northern Ireland's cheese producers

By John Mulgrew

A weakening euro could make Northern Ireland's ability to compete with the Republic in the dairy market increasingly difficult, it has been claimed.

United Dairy Farmers' chief executive David Dobbin said margins are being squeezed and the pound's strength over the euro could lead to customers buying products, such as cheese, from increasingly cheaper markets.

And many customers of the dairy giant - which operates Dale Farm among other subsidiaries - are buying their cheese products in euros. "We are still exporting cheese - mainly to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the US," he said.

"So far, those contracts haven't been affected by the euro - but sterling has gained in the last few weeks.

"Our fear is as it (sterling) strengthens against the euro, our main competitor, the Irish Dairy Board, can be cheaper than us.

"If the current exchange rate worsens, it's going to make it harder - it won't stop, but it will make the returns lower."

But he said the company's cheese sales were up on this time last year.

That was a much needed boost after an upsurge in their cheese production meant markets had to be found to shift the countless pallets of dairy.

"We've seen a big improvement - last year we got a lot of new capacity," he said.

"That takes a lot of time to fill. It's easy to make it, but it's harder to find customers.

"Our sales are more than double this time last year, and there has been strong performance in consumer cheese sales.

"We had a big worry after the Russian cheese ban. We are in a much better position than last year, and the market seems to have cleared. We are not sitting - as we were this time last year - worried about where to sell out stock."

It comes as figures show a growing demand for some of the UK's top names in cheese, including cheddar and stilton.

UK cheese sales to the US increased by 15% to £40m last year - while sales to South Africa rose sevenfold.

The strong dollar has also helped drive American imports of a host of other British goods.

Figures from the Food and Drink Federation show that British food exporters are defying sluggish continental economies.

Northern Ireland's own independent cheese-making success story has also witnessed increasing demand.

Mike Thomson began selling his blue cheese 'Young Buck' from his Newtownards base in 2013.

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