Mark Allen said this was making it hard to meet the needs of consumers who were increasingly keen to buy British produce, especially in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
He said around 90,000 ̶ 100,000t of Cheddar was currently exported to the UK ̶ yet much of it carries a UK “health mark”. This is because the last stage of production, usually cutting and packing, takes place in this country.
“In the minds of consumers, it is UK cheese because the packaging carries UK health marks,” said Allen.
‘Isn’t a level playing field’
“I think the whole supply chain can help with this, because there isn't a level playing field.”
Allen is concerned that many of his competitors ̶ especially in Ireland ̶ have access to cheaper milk supplies, giving them a clear cost advantage.
He is now calling on the government, retailers and manufacturers to ensure a “more accurate” on-pack message.
“What the industry needs is clarity. It needs the government, our customers, ourselves and consumers to understand where the cheese is made,” he said.
“We source 100% of our milk from Devon and Cornwall and we are very proud to be a UK brand. The money we make from that product goes into the UK economy, to our farmers, to our staff and to our shareholders. All of the effort we put in is for the UK.”
Allen’s views are shared by the British Cheese Board, which promotes British cheese.
Confusing for customers
It says that major retailers will increasingly put the name of the dairy, farm, region or country in which the cheese is made on its own-label goods, but says the situation is confusing for consumers when it comes to branded goods.
“By law, all dairy products must carry a health mark that indicates where the last significant stage of processing took place,” it states.
“What is confusing is that most of the imported Cheddar is cut into smaller pieces in the UK and, as such, will carry a UK health mark. So, unless the packaging on the cheese tells you that it came from a named UK dairy, farm, region or country within the UK, it is likely that the Cheddar is imported.”
Allen added: “To make sure that our UK investment remains valid, we want to play on an even playing field where consumers can choose to purchase what they believe is right either ̶ from overseas or from a UK product.”
Read our Big Interview with Mark Allen here.