Though Brazil has just come out of its gravest recession on record, one surprising industry is faring considerably better than most: cheese producers. According to the Brazilian Association of the Cheese Industry (Abiq), production will rise 2.5 percent in 2018, and while the growth rate is not reaching pre-crisis rates of 10 percent a year, the feeling is that things are better for cheesemakers than for the majority of sectors. On average, Brazilians consume 5.5 kilograms of cheese each year, so there is potential for growth – for the sake of comparison, Argentinians eat 11.5 kilograms of the stuff every year.
However, in order to stimulate the cheese market to grow even more, one initiative has shown potential to help boost recovery. Earlier this year, the Research Network on Brazilian Craft Cheeses (Repequab) was created by The Food Research Center at the University of São Paulo. The objective of the research network is to integrate Brazilian researchers who work in the area of artisanal cheeses in order to establish partnerships and facilitate the exchange of information and human resources for the strengthening of the Brazilian cheese industry.
The general objectives of REPEQUAB, according to Gustavo Augusto Lacorte, biologist and a member of the network, are to integrate the various studies on craft cheese which are being developed independently across Brazil, as well as to improve the dialogue between these researchers and the productive sector. This integration between researchers and the productive sector, he believes, will allow for the mapping of the demands of the parts of the industry which still lack research. It will also avoid overlapping and overly similar studies from being carried out and promote the exchange of students between partner institutions, favoring collaborative research.
One of the main reasons why the production of artisanal cheeses has not managed to grow more is that it is largely done by family farmers on small properties. This, Mr. Lacorte says, leads to some obstacles, such as a lack of investment capacity to modernize the production process, no training of producers on notions of entrepreneurship and association in cooperatives, and the implementation of good practices of milking and production.
Because they are small producers, they have less visibility and representation in the state and federal legislative houses to adapt the current legislation for this specific productive sector, as the laws currently in force focus more on industry. Lastly, small farmers lack resources to invest in research that seeks effective solutions to improve product quality and increase productivity. The network hopes to fill all these gaps and make the artisanal cheese market grow. And there is plenty of room for growth.
“The artisanal cheese market in Brazil has gained greater visibility in recent years with the increase in demand for non-industrialized products, following the recent trend of ‘gourmetization,'” believes Mr. Lacorte. There is, however, a limit in capacity to attend to that growing demand. The ability to produce artisanal cheeses varies from region to region across the country.
Thus, traditional cheese-producing regions, such as the Serra da Canastra region of Minas Gerais, have their most recognized products available on the national market and therefore have higher production and sales volumes, also presenting a more organized production chain. Similarly, regions that are beginning their process of divulging their ‘brand’ to the rest of the nation have a smaller participation in large consumer centers such as the city of São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro and have a lower level of organization, he says.
This attempt to make production more efficient and homogenous in the cheese market has already happened in other sectors, such as wine and coffee.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee. This year, the forecasted harvest will be of nearly 60 million sacks, almost double that of the world’s second biggest exporter, Vietnam. According to the Brazilian Association for the Coffee Industry (Abic), every single major coffee brand (such as Nespresso, Lavazza – or Starbucks) uses Brazilian coffee in its blend.
However, for decades, Brazil marketed its export of coffee as a commodity instead of a specialty product. Well, that is, until a few years ago. The market for specialty coffee in Brazil is growing year on year, and recent research shows that the country is producing extraordinary varieties with unique flavor and aroma profiles.
Specialty coffee is a relatively new market in Brazil, as despite being one of the world’s leading producers of traditional coffee, the notion of high-quality coffee only began to grow in the early 2000s. Today, while research shows consumption of traditional coffee to be increasing by approximately 2 percent each year, consumption of specialty coffee is growing around 13 percent.
Between 2015 and 2016, consumption of coffee priced above BRL 12 (approximately USD 3.50) per 500g bag increased by 31.1 percent, demonstrating the growing market niche for gourmet, premium, and specialty coffee.
Minas Gerais is home to the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA), which certifies and represents producers of the finest beans in the country. There are currently 96 certified producers, who have to meet a strict set of requirements to earn the “specialty” label. “The quality of our products is rising. Other countries will have to understand that and pay more for it,” said Vanúsia Nogueira, BSCA’s Executive Director, to BHAZ.
Until recently, Brazil was not recognized as a wine-producing country. But, since the 1990s, vineyards across the country are increasing their market share – that was once dominated by imports, especially from Argentina and Chile.
Brazilian wine has been conquering an important share in the international market, says Diego Bertolini, promotions manager at the Brazilian Wine Institute. “Even if we still export a small volume – about 2% of the total produced goes to the foreign market – we see an improvement in the image of our products, especially the sparkling wine, among consumers from other countries”, he says.
Once restricted to southern states such as Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, now production has spread across the country. The interior of São Paulo state, the south of Minas Gerais, Goiás and the São Francisco Valley are the rising stars in Brazilian wine production. The expansion, Bertolini says, has been fundamental for Brazil to broaden its wine culture and to strengthen the entire chain. Not only is the quantity produced on the rise, according to Mr. Bertolini, but so is the added value of the products.
One way of strengthening the market value of local products is by creating origin seals. Canastra cheese, for instance, has that kind of seal of approval, as well as champagne. In Brazil, the National Institute of Intellectual Property has been granting those certificates, They ensure that what the consumer gets is produced by the highest standards created within a certain region.
Since 2017, five new products have been recognized by the seal: manioc flour from Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre, guaraná from Maués, Amazonas, Socol (a pork sausage) from Venda Nova do Imigrante, in Espírito Santo, cocoa almonds from southern Bahia and cheese from Colônia Witmarsum, in Paraná.
Brazil now has 58 products and services with a geographical indication. Other national products that have the seal are the red and white wines from the Vale dos Vinhedos, in Rio Grande do Sul, and coffee from the Cerrado Mineiro region.