A NORTH East company which processes Belgian cheese and sells it to restaurants and takeaways across Britain is looking to increase its sales 20% after breaking into the Middle East market.
Behraz Beni and his wife Essmat launched Prima Cheese in Seaham 15 years ago and it has grown into one of the largest independent cheese suppliers in the UK with sales last year of £21m.
This year the business is expected to bring in £25m after breaking into overseas markets for the first time three months ago with sizeable contracts with firms supplying countries including Jordan, Lebanon, and Bahrain.
It hopes its new export trade will grow quickly selling the cheese, largely used as toppings in pizza and other fast food outlets, into markets in China and Korea as well as the Continent.
Commercial director Nagma Beni, the founder’s daughter, said: “We used to supply just in the North East and now sell across the UK and we have a very strong business but we needed a new market.
“We knew there were strong economies in the Middle East and we understand the culture there as we have a Middle Eastern background.
“The UK food industry has a very good reputation because of its high standards. Some companies seemed scared to do business in that area but we are not and have found an untapped need.
“There is also a big demand in the Far East and countries like Malaysia where there is a very strong tourist and hotel market. There has been an amazing response and we are very optimistic of new business this year.”
Mr Beni came to the North East from Iran in the 1970s to study and passed his doctorate in civil engineering, but his daughter said “then it was difficult to get a job without an English name” and he and his artist wife started running takeaways in Durham.
He then launched a food services firm supplying other takeaways and restaurants across the North East initially by making mozzarella cheese in Fishburn in County Durham and then importing it instead and processing it for other markets.
The business more than ever has to customise its imported cheese to suit other markets. Nagma Beni said: “We are selling into France products with very little oil and very little salt as that is what they like. That would not be acceptable in Britain. In the Middle East they like the cheese white and in England they want colour.”
The company got help to move into overseas markets from export agency UK Trade & Investment which organised trips and gave it advice to sell to its chosen countries.
Jeff Bean, UKTI’s international trade adviser responsible for the food and drink sector, said: “Prima Cheese Ltd has followed a very structured approach, which I believe is an essential start for any export drive and are beginning to see the fruits in a relatively short time frame.
“Over 30% of the 7,000 plus food and drink manufacturing companies across the UK sell their products overseas and UKTI is keen to help others follow in the footsteps of Prima Cheese to win new business overseas.”