France urges consumers to eat more cheese as coronavirus hits sales

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/DianeHemani
Image: Getty/DianeHemani

Related tags cheesemakers Cheese

‘How do you govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?’, Charles de Gaulle famously quipped. The country is now facing the challenge of getting more consumers to eat cheese as coronavirus impacts demand.

The French dairy industry France Terre de Lait (CNEIL) has launched a campaign urging people to eat more cheese as coronavirus as hit sales as much as 60%.

The drive, named #Fromagissons (or ‘let’s act for cheese’), complains that faced with the COVID-19 crisis, producers of traditional cheeses are in great difficulty, with consumers in confinement shunning “pleasure” foods such a cheese, and the majority of distribution channels in this segment closed.

Many dairy farmers are trying to focus more on butter, cream, and milk to stay afloat, but the industry is under threat unless consumers don't start eating more cheese, CNIEL warned.

“The consumption of cheeses is falling and with it many producers and businesses throughout France are in danger… The dairy industry is calling on consumers to eat cheese in solidarity with our producers of saint-nectaire, reblochon, cantal, camembert​", it said.

A significant number of producers and processing companies - especially SMEs and very small businesses - are seeing their situation deteriorate the organisation warned. Thousands of tonnes of cheese are at risk of being thrown away, it said, as the dairy sector is trying to reorganize to cope with major changes in consumption. The industry was now faced with the challenge of encouraging the consumption of traditional cheeses shunned by consumers since containment. “All the women and men in the sector need to reorganize and work together so that France remains that of 1,000 cheeses,”​ it added.

The president of the dairy collective Sodiaal (Société de diffusion internationale agro-alimentaire), Damien Lacombe, told the French agriculture magazine Agri Culture "the situation is critical and requires a rapid increase in consumption​". He added the sector has asked the French government for assistance. “We are awaiting compensation from PDO farmers who produce at a loss. Two thousand tonnes of cheese were to leave our cellars in April, we still have 1,500. If they are not distributed before May 11, they will be out of date.”

In response to the crisis, the cheesemakers of Salerno have launched the "cacio bonds". Similar to corona bonds, or recovery bonds, the idea is to allow consumers to buy "caciocavallo" cheese, and consume it once it has matured after several months.

Meanwhile in Belgium, consumers are being asked to eat fries twice a week. According to the sector organisation Belgapom, Belgian farmers are facing a surplus of around 750,000 tonnes of potatoes that risk being destroyed owing to measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In the UK, the inaugural British Cheese Weekender (taking place online from 9-10 May) warned that the future of hundreds of small farmhouse and artisan cheesemakers in Britain is in the balance after many lost up to 90% of their business overnight when restaurants were closed in the coronavirus crisis, while many supermarkets focused on factory-made block cheeses. “There's a real danger we may lose some of our greatest cheeses if we don't act​,” it said.  

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