Whey Prices Soar
March 25, 2021
In the past six months, CME spot whey powder has rallied more than 30¢ per pound, an astounding 93% increase. Front- month whey futures prices have jumped to six-year highs. USDA’s Dairy Market News reports that even after such a steep climb, “both international and domestic demand remain hearty.” Consumers are particularly hungry for high-protein whey products, like whey protein concentrate (WPC) 80% and whey protein isolates, as gyms reopen and team sports resume.
China has imported huge volumes of American whey, which is helping to keep U.S. whey product inventories in check. Chinese whey imports have gotten off to a strong start this year, with volumes in January and February up 51% from the first two months of 2020, after adjusting for leap day. But concerns remain. Chinese whey imports are primarily being fed to piglets, as the nation rebuilds its swine herd from the devastation of African swine fever (ASF). As recently as December, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the virus was largely under control and that the pig and sow herds would be back to full strength early this year. However, in the past few months, farmers have reported new outbreaks of ASF in at least five provinces, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Alarmingly, two new strains of the virus, which are less virulent, have surfaced. This makes them harder to detect and easier to spread. In the short run, new outbreaks could suppress China’s appetite for foreign whey.
After losing ground at the onset of the trade war, the United States regained much of its share of China’s whey market last year. But U.S. market share began to slip last month, likely due to issues involving the inability to load products at U.S. ports in a timely manner. The traffic jam in the Suez Canal will likely exacerbate these shipping issues and could slow U.S. dairy product exports, including whey sales. For now, though, the trade seems unperturbed, and whey prices continue to soar.