The Growing Popularity of Mexican Cheese in International Markets

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Mexico Cheese Market

 Mexican cheese is not just a delicious ingredient for tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. It is also a booming industry that is expanding its reach to new markets around the world. The Mexico cheese market size attained a value of USD 3.07 billion in 2021, owing to the growing demand for different cheeses and increasing consumption of fast food around the world. The market is projected to further grow at a CAGR of 7.6% between 2024 and 2032 to reach a value of USD 4.95 billion by 2027. In this blog post, we will explore the factors behind this remarkable growth, the strategies employed by Mexican cheese producers, and the impact of this industry on the economy and culture of Mexico. 

Historical Context 

Mexican cheese has a long and rich history that dates back to the colonial era, when Spanish settlers introduced dairy animals and cheese-making techniques to the native population. Over time, Mexican cheese makers adapted and modified these methods to suit their local preferences, ingredients, and climate. They developed a variety of cheeses with different textures, flavors, and uses, such as queso fresco, queso panela, queso oaxaca, queso cotija, and queso manchego. These cheeses became an integral part of Mexican cuisine, adding creaminess, saltiness, and complexity to dishes such as mole, chilaquiles, and sopes. 

Factors Driving Global Demand 

One of the main factors driving the global demand for Mexican cheese is the rise in popularity of Mexican cuisine worldwide. According to the World Tourism Organization, Mexico is the seventh most visited country in the world, attracting more than 45 million tourists in 2019. Many of these visitors are exposed to the diversity and richness of Mexican food, and develop a taste for its distinctive cheeses. Moreover, the spread of Mexican restaurants, food trucks, and fast food chains across the globe has also increased the availability and accessibility of Mexican cheese. For example, Taco Bell, the largest Mexican fast food chain in the world, operates in more than 30 countries and serves more than 2 billion customers annually. 

Market Expansion Strategies 

In response to the increasing global demand for Mexican cheese, Mexican cheese producers have adopted several strategies to expand their market share and reach new consumers. One of these strategies is to enter new markets, especially in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where the consumption of cheese is growing rapidly. For example, in 2019, Mexico signed a trade agreement with China, the world’s largest cheese importer, to export its dairy products, including cheese, to the Asian giant. Mexico also has trade agreements with other countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Egypt, and Israel, that facilitate the export of its cheese products. 

Another strategy that Mexican cheese producers have employed is to market their products as authentic and high-quality, highlighting their origin, tradition, and craftsmanship. For example, some Mexican cheese brands, such as Los Altos, Cacique, and Lala, have obtained certifications and labels that indicate their geographical indication, organic production, or artisanal methods. These certifications and labels help to differentiate their products from other competitors and appeal to consumers who value authenticity and quality. Moreover, some Mexican cheese producers have also launched marketing campaigns that showcase the culture and history of Mexico, such as its music, art, and festivals, and how they relate to cheese making and consumption. 

Impact on the Mexico Cheese Industry 

The growing popularity of Mexican cheese in international markets has had a positive impact on the Mexican cheese industry, generating growth, revenue, and employment. According to the National Chamber of the Dairy Industry (CANILEC), the production of cheese in Mexico increased by 4.2% in 2020, reaching 378,000 tons, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The export of cheese also increased by 8.7%, reaching 16,000 tons, mainly to the United States, Canada, and Europe. The cheese industry also generated more than 150,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributed to the development of the rural areas where most of the cheesemakers are located. 

Case Studies 

To illustrate the success and challenges of the Mexican cheese industry in the international market, we will present two case studies of Mexican cheese brands that have expanded their presence and recognition abroad. The first case study is Quesos Chela, a family-owned company that produces artisanal cheese in the state of Jalisco, and exports to the United States, Canada, and Europe. The second case study is Quesos Navarro, a large-scale company that produces industrial cheese in the state of Aguascalientes, and exports to more than 20 countries, including China, Japan, and South Korea. 

  • Quesos Chela: Quesos Chela is a company that was founded in 1982 by Consuelo Gómez, a cheese maker who learned the craft from her grandmother. The company produces more than 20 varieties of cheese, such as queso fresco, queso panela, queso Oaxaca, and queso cotija, using traditional methods and local ingredients. The company has a production capacity of 15 tons per day and employs more than 100 workers, mostly women. Quesos Chela began to export its products in 2004, after obtaining the necessary certifications and permits from the authorities. The company currently exports to the United States, Canada, and Europe, mainly to specialty stores, ethnic markets, and restaurants. 
  • Quesos Navarro: Quesos Navarro is a company that was founded in 1954 by José Navarro, a dairy farmer who started to produce cheese as a way to add value to his milk. The company produces more than 40 varieties of cheese, such as queso manchego, queso cheddar, queso mozzarella, and queso gouda, using modern technology and equipment. The company has a production capacity of 300 tons per day, and employs more than 1,000 workers. Quesos Navarro began to export its products in 1994, after establishing strategic alliances with international distributors and retailers. The company currently exports to more than 20 countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, mainly to supermarkets, convenience stores, and fast food chains. 

Future Trends 

The future of the Mexican cheese industry in the international market looks promising and exciting, as the demand for Mexican cheese continues to grow and diversify. Some of the trends that are expected to shape the industry in the coming years are: 

  • The emergence of new markets and segments: As the consumption of cheese increases in regions such as Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, new opportunities will arise for Mexican cheese producers to enter and expand their presence in these markets. Moreover, as the consumer preferences and needs evolve, new segments will emerge, such as vegan, organic, lactose-free, and functional cheese, that will require new products and formulations from Mexican cheese producers. 
  • The development of new products and flavors: As the competition in the international market intensifies, Mexican cheese producers will have to innovate and create new products and flavors that differentiate them from other cheese producers and attract new customers. For example, some Mexican cheese producers have already developed products such as queso fresco with jalapeño, queso oaxaca with chipotle, and queso cotija with lime, that combine the traditional taste of Mexican cheese with the spicy and tangy flavors of Mexican cuisine.