The big cheese
Specialising in cheese for pizza and pasta, Prima Cheese is one of the UK’s fastest growing manufacturers of cheeses for wholesale, foodservice and manufacturing markets
Established in 1996 by founders and owners Behroz Beni and Essmat Ansari Beni, family owned and run Prima Cheese has grown over the years to become a well-reputed and in demand producer of mozzarella, grated and block cheddars and mozzarella cheese string for stuffed crust pizzas. Specialising in the process of shredding and blending a variety of unique dairy products that are suitable to supply to its domestic UK and international markets, the company focuses on pizza cheese but has diversified into other dairy products; these include mild cheddar cheese slices for sandwich fillings or burgers, block cheese, semi-hard pure mozzarella for slicing, shredding and grating and a unique semi-hard cheddar style product that contains cheese, vegetable oil and added cheddar flavour. Formulated exclusively for Prima Cheese, the versatile product can be used alone or blended into both hot and cold applications.
Operating from a 35,000-square foot site in Seaham, Prima Cheese houses three shredding production lines and one block line, storage for 500 pallets, both chilled and frozen, and offices; on top of this, the company also has a dedicated test kitchen and machinery cleaning washroom all under the same roof. It is here that the company works tirelessly to ensure each product is of optimum quality and that Prima Cheese retains its place as one of the most recognised brands within the UK food service and manufacturing industry. “When you get a product from Prima Cheese it means quality, consistency and that the service is there,” explains Nima Beni, Director at Prima Cheese. “Our slogan, ‘Prima Stretches Further’, says it all as we will go the extra mile for our customers.”
With the company achieving a strong foothold in both the UK and export markets in just over a decade, Nima looks back on the firm’s path to success: “There were a number of challenges faced in the early days as a manufacturer of mozzarella, so Prima Cheese made the strategic decision to work with a supplier in Belgium who supplied us with mozzarella every week at the same quantity we required while also ensuring quality and consistency. This option was cheaper than the production of mozzarella at the time, which was costly and also had a lack of consistency at times in terms of quality.
Focus on cheese
“Buying mozzarella in bulk was not something many companies were doing at the time in the UK; we began to grow and evolve and gain new business across the country in the food service business. However, in 2007 the company changed to its current format, with the food service business relocated and the shares Mr Beni had with this business given to his partner. The two divisions, Prima Cheese and the food service business, became completely different entities, with the food service business becoming a customer of ours. In 2005 Nagma Ebanks-Beni, my sister, joined the company as a Director, with myself joining two years later in 2007. As a family, our focus was on the cheese business and building Prima Cheese to its full capabilities; in 2011 we decided to build on an extension strategy and got our A Grade British Retail Consortium (BRC) accreditation, which boosted our confidence and processes and made us more professional in our operations and outlook. As a company, this accreditation also enabled us to have to confidence in approaching customers that we weren’t able to approach previously.”
During this notable time in the company’s history, Prima Cheese also made the strategic decision to move into the export market, as Beni continues: “In 2011 we enquired about the route to market in terms of export, with Nagma and myself going on courses that were funded by the UKTI at the time to gain further insight. From there, our export market gained traction and we never thought it would increase to the levels it is at today! Following the success of the export business, Nagma has taken on the role of Export Director while I am Director of the UK market; this ensures that we are fully focused on these divisions. We now export to over 30 countries, with the export sales at around 35 per cent of our yearly turnover, so it is a big department that is still growing.”
Continuing to expand despite a period of political economic upheaval within the UK thanks to its entry into export and winning market share in its current sectors, Prima Cheese is ensuring further success with its co-packing business segment. “Not only have we gone into export and the UK food service sector, we are now able to co-pack for our suppliers who give us their contracts for shredded products as we can provide this service much more efficiently and cost-effectively. We not only take the product and process it, we also deliver it to multiple locations as we have our own transportation in the UK; these strengths make us a little more flexible for our suppliers,” says Beni. “Because we have a set price for our co-packing services, there isn’t any pricing negotiation for us to deal with; this is instead undertaken with the supplier, technically our customer, and their client. So far, the co-packing business has increased by approximately 200 per cent, with export continuing to increase significantly also.”
In response to this increased demand for Prima Cheese products, the company acquired the land around its site, including 12 units and the road in 2016; so far three of the 12 units have been knocked down and will shortly be built on to double the size of the current site. “We will have a dedicated warehouse and loading bays as well as dedicated storage areas as our storage facilities are full to the brim; we need this space now. Over time our storage facilities will be doubled or tripled and we will also build new offices downstairs as our current ones were constructed in 2007 and change is good. Once completed the site will expand to 90,000 feet or 100,000 square feet so we will be well prepared for the future. Furthermore, we will be installing a new production line and revamping our block line, which will mean we have five lines on site; this is a statement as to where we want to be in the future and our goals over the next five-to-ten years,” says Beni.
“We currently process a minimum of 550 tonnes per week, which is a huge amount in terms of the UK market; we are doing around 28,000 tonnes a year but we want to step up our amount to 700 tonnes or 800 tonnes per week. This is our goal over the next four years and to reach this we will attract more suppliers and become their partners in co-packing, increase our export business and be more competitive in the markets we are in. Additionally, we want to diversify services further and progress from a pizza cheese supplier to an ingredients supplier over the coming years,” Beni concludes.