UK market analysts Proteus Insight write in a new report that the 370 million consumers in the region consumed some 200,000 tonnes of processed cheese, a rise of nearly 18 per cent on the 2000 figures of 165,000 tonnes.
"While the dynamics between different cheese sectors has remained about the same, a marginal percentage growth, the cheese market as a whole is growing well," John Meropoulos, director of Proteus Insight explained to FoodNavigator.com.
While spreads were by far the most popular sector in 2003, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of volume, Meropoulos predicts that sliced cheese will take market share away from the canned of block cheese sectors. French companies Fromageries Bel, the maker of the 'La vache qui rit' brand, Bongrain and Lactalis have a good slice of the portion spread sector.
According to the report, sliced cheese consumption is rising as a result of further development in the food service sector of the MENA region.
The established markets Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco account for approximately 65 per cent of total volume sales in 2003.
"These markets will continue to expand, but what will likely bring a further boost to the MENA region as a whole is the development of markets such as Iraq, Yemen and even white cheese consuming nations such as Iran and Turkey over the next five years," added Meropoulos.
Sales of canned cheese remain decent as the products are popular in Gulf countries where the severe climate and lack of chilled distribution network in some countries, such as Yemen, requires reliable shelf life.
The report suggests that local companies are starting to increase their capacity and to challenge the previously established multinationals such as Australasian suppliers Kraft (Australia) and New Zealand Milk that have a wider produce range, including jar spreads, canned and slices.
"In Saudi Arabia, Almarai has made significant investments in its capacities over the past few years and a focused marketing strategy has seen them increasing their share in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC," added Meropoulos.
But the overall figures for the MENA region compare sharply with western Europe where a major decline in processed cheese is currently taking place. Spreads are in 'trouble' and sliced cheese is 'struggling'. But a glimmer of light is currently shining from the processed cheese snacks domain, the target of many a food maker. "Snacks is an exciting area and in the UK alone sales are exploding," said the Proteus Insight director, adding that innovation is rife as manufacturers focus on growth in this dynamic area.