Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Producers cheesed off with Russian sanctions

Producers cheesed off with Russian sanctions
Producers cheesed off with Russian sanctions

Blessed are the cheesemakers, goes the old Monty Python refrain in The Life of Brian.

In the present climate, nowhere is the misheard beatitude held more dear than in Russia, which is facing the effect of EU sanctions on food imports.

However, where EU cheesemakers – not least of Northern Ireland's biggest dairy firm Dale Farm – are suffering, the ban has created opportunities for Switzerland.

The neutral territory, which is not part of the EU, is well-known for its cheesemaking prowess and has experienced a fillip in orders since sanctions were introduced.

One Swiss cheesemaker told the BBC that he was receiving dozens of calls a day from panicking Russian cheese distributors, now bereft of cheeses from Wensleydale to Camembert.

But many cheesemakers in Switzerland are small businesses without the ability to crank up production – especially given that their cheeses take some time to mature.

Writing in Business Telegraph yesterday, Dale Farm Group chief executive David Dobbin, who is also the chairman of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said the ban, stopping all cheese, butter, meat and pork sales, was "most unwelcome". In their last results, growing demand in Russia and China helped Dale Farm achieve export sales of £102m.

When the company announced those results just last month, the uppermost concern for Mr Dobbin was the strength of sterling.

Sanctions on Russia were not part of the conversation at that point, as it was just one week before the attack on a Malaysian passenger jet by Ukraine separatists, in which nearly 300 lives were lost. The sanctions are a reminder of how exporting can bring great risk as well as great opportunity.

But Dale Farm was considering the possible slow-down in exports.

Mr Dobbin said: "Last year we had very strong growth from exports and good growth from domestic –but now that's reversed." Fortunate are the cheesemakers, then, who are nimble and resilient, and take nothing for granted.

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