Halloumi going through changes…again

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Cyprus is trying to end the Halloumi saga by swatting away legal objections to the squeaky cheese’s future as an EU Protected Product of Origin brought by industry stakeholders.

The Agriculture Ministry has suggested a ‘win-win’ formula for all Halloumi stakeholders, addressing thorny issues which brought the wrath of stakeholders, who have resorted to legal action.

Approved in April 2021, Halloumi’s PDO status provided by the European Commission means that the traditional cheese can only be produced in Cyprus, preventing imitators from claiming the crown.

However, local cheesemakers challenged the white cheese’s newly acquired PDO status in court.

In October, the Cyprus Cheesemakers Association and 11 other applicants appealed to the EU’s General Court of the Court of Justice, arguing it should annul the Commission’s decision to enter Halloumi/Hellim into the register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications.

The appeal was based on technicalities, but the reason is that it will dent the €300 mln in exports of the rubbery cheese.

Cyprus cheesemakers said they were ‘forced’ to take action as adoption of the file will endanger Halloumi exports due to the ‘tight’ criteria.

According to industry sources, several appeals against Cyprus’ Halloumi PDO file are pending before local and EU Courts.

Cyprus’ PDO file submitted in 2014 says goat’s milk should by 2024 exceed cow’s milk, reaching a minimum of 51%, made from specific Cypriot breeds of goats and sheep.

Other problematic issues include clauses that say Halloumi can only be made by milk from specific breeds and sold in the traditional folded block shape.

Dairy producers feared they could not meet the strict description of the cheese’s PDO file.

They argue that a shortage in goat and sheep milk would make it next to impossible to produce Halloumi in the quantities they are accustomed to.

The PDO file also specifies that goat’s milk used in the mix should be from local goat tribes, fed with specific animal fodder.

Halloumi fries

Based on new proposals tabled by Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis, the sheep and goat milk ratio will be decreased from 50%+ to 20% while also including various halloumi byproducts not included in the initial PDO file.

These products include burger-shaped Halloumi and sliced pieces suitable for frying.

Kadis hopes to satisfy sheep and goat milk producers by offering financial incentives for milk provided to the dairy industry.

If the sheep and goat breeders accept the ‘deal’, they will see an increase in the milk price they deliver to dairies, subsidised by the government and dairy producers.

This increase for 2022-2023 is €0.18 per litre in sheep’s milk and €0.13 in goat’s milk.

Today the average price of sheep’s milk is €1.05 per litre and goat’s milk €0.70.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Cyprus Dairy Producers Association appeared to be on board with the proposal.

The association chairman, George Petrou, confirmed that producers have negotiated with the ministry and other stakeholders to find an amicable solution to the PDO file.

“We have agreed on 12 out of some 13 thorny points, with the issue of the milk ratio in the mix still on the table,” said Petrou.

He confirmed that dairy producers were adamant about producing Halloumi products that do not comply with the PDO.

They received reassurances from the EU that the cheese’s European Union Trademark would cover them.

“The association welcomes the development, as we feel that tweaking the PDO file will be in the best interest of all stakeholders.”

Export growth

On behalf of goat and sheep breeders, General Secretary of Panagrotikos Farmers Union, Tasos Yiapanis, said he welcomed the development.

“Our common goal is to protect the reputation of Halloumi from imitators.

“In doing so, however, we need to protect the interests of all stakeholders.”

He argued the file needed tweaking as it was drawn up when the situation on the ground was different from today.

“In 2014, our Halloumi exports were worth just over €100 mln; today, they are worth €260 mln.

“Back when the demand was lower, we had enough milk production from the breeds listed in the file to cover demand. This not the case today.”

Yiapanis argued that the file needs to be tweaked to allow for all goat or sheep breeds that have been present on the island in the past decade to be included in the list of acceptable breeds.

It is one of the issues the ministry is working on to change.

In recent years, sales and exports of Halloumi spiked with 2020, bringing in a whooping €266.5 mln.

Last year, the Agriculture Ministry valued the global halloumi cheese market at €420 mln, while studies show the market could generate over €625 mln in several years.

According to Dublin-based Researchandmarkets.com, the halloumi market is projected to nearly double in six years to reach $737.0 mln by 2027, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% from 2021 to 2027.