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Saudi Arabia leads soaring MidEast demand for French cheese

The Middle East is one of the largest importers of French dairy products in the world, according to the latest research from the country’s official cheese board, the Centre National Interprofessionnel de l’Economie Laitière (CNIEL).

The research puts the Middle East ahead of China ($354 million), North America ($270 million), Switzerland ($137 million) and Australia ($30 million).

Of the $8 billion of French dairy produce exported around the world, over $400 million is sold to the Middle East – a figure that is continuously growing, according to CNIEL.

The destination with the largest appetite for French dairy in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia, which imported $143.5 million worth of the goods, a share that has increased by 157 percent over the past 5 years.  

Edwina Salvatori, account director, SOPEXA Middle East said: “As the number of French cheese exporters continues to grow, the market is becoming highly competitive and responsive to consumer needs. As a French food specialist, we’re well versed in the popularity of the produce coming out of the country, particularly as it becomes more and more accessible.”

M Laurent Damiens, communication director of CNIEL, added: “The tastes of GCC residents are undoubtedly evolving as they become more familiar with French products, particularly as more Middle East residents decide to vacation in European countries such as France.

“The quality of French produce is renowned around the world, this, in addition to favourable pricing means the Middle East is an extremely important market to us.”

Statistics from Service des statistiques internationals, the French research specialists, further underscore the growing popularity of cheese in the region. The amount of cheese imported from France to Saudi Arabia has almost tripled between 2011 and 2015, to reach almost 10,000 tonnes this year. 

During the same period, there was a 21 percent rise in French cheese imports to the UAE, reaching almost 2,500 tonnes per year.

As the world’s second largest cheese exporter and largest specialty cheese exporter, France produces more than 1,200 varieties of cheese, 34 percent of which is exported. Among the most sought after varieties include Camembert, Neufchâtel, Pont l’Evêque, Comté, Morbier, Mont d’Or, Mimolette, Fourme de Montbrison and Époisses.

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