By Vincent Van Ross
India is one of the fastest growing markets for cheese with annual growth pegged at 20% with a total consumption of about 7,000 tons a year according to Agri-Commodity Federation. With one of the largest consumer bases in the world, cheese could be a multi-million dollar industry in India. Nowhere else do people consume cheese in so many different forms and use cheese in so many varieties of food preparation as in India.
In mom and pop stores as well as supermarkets we find tinned cheese and cheese cubes which are salted and ready-to-eat; cheese spread which was introduced as a substitute for butter; cheese singles (slice) which are used as stuffing for sandwiches; pizza cheese used as topping on pizzas which are fast becoming the preferred fast food in Indian metros. Amul has even introduced a low calorie version of cheese called “slim cheese.” Weight conscious people are slowly taking to this new product,” says Sandeep, a salesman at a retail outlet in central Delhi.
Top players of branded cheese manufacturing in India include Amul, Britannia, Le Bon, Mother Dairy and others. Out of these, Amul has a market share of 65% according to Agri-Commodity Federation. There are others such as Vita and Vijaya who have a market share in the cheese market but their share is insignificant.
During the last few years, the Indian cheese market has grown steadily at 15 to 20 per cent per annum according to a market survey of dairy products in India. The Australian cheese processor, Kraft, has made an inroad into the Indian market followed by Remia of Holland. Initially, the imported brands of cheese were introduced into Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai and were patronized by expatriates. But, now some Indians too have started taking a fancy for these brands.
The urban population accounts for major cheese consumption in India. Taken together, the four metropolitan cities viz., Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata consume over 60% of the total cheese sold in India. Mumbai tops the list with 30%, followed by Delhi at 20%, Kolkota at 7% and Chennai at 6%.
In smaller towns and rural areas, consumers still prefer non-branded cottage cheese processed by local dairy owners called “paneer.” Unlike cheese cubes, paneer is softer and bland and all Indian delicacies are made out of paneer. It arrives in the market in large chunks that look like loaves of bread. It is cut, weighed and sold loose. People prefer cheese in the form of paneer because they get fresh stocks everyday. It is also much more economical as compared to branded cheese. Paneer sells at 100-140 rupees a kilo as against branded cheese which sells around 200 rupees per kilo.
Paneer is used as stuffing for popular deep-fried north Indian snacks such as paneer pakora, bread pakora and paneer roll. It is also used as stuffing for some south Indian snacks like paneer dosa and paneer bonda. It is also frequently used in Indian curries and other vegetable preparations.
Sometimes, when there isn’t enough time to run over to the market to get paneer or when the market runs out of stock, the Indian housewife prepares paneer at a moment’s notice by pouring fresh lemon juice over a boiling pot of milk!