Big cheese

Having once again increased its annual turnover and grown its export business, Prima Cheese is on the brink of completing the expansion of its premises that will take the pizza and pasta cheese manufacturer to the next level of its development

2019 looks all set to mark the beginning of a new chapter in Prima Cheese’s history. When we last spoke to the cheese manufacturer’s Operations Director, Nima Beni, a year ago, the company was in the middle of its major expansion plan. Twelve months on, it can see the finishing line of the project clearly, with the final phase expected to be completed in May.

“This will be the biggest physical expansion in our history and it covers every single area of operations,” Nima begins exuberantly. “Aside from the production area, which is being grown to five production lines, we have already increased our storage space, loading base, freezer space, and we are also having new offices built, including a new training room that will enable us to continue engaging with the professional Cheesedevelopment of our ever-expanding staff.”

Against the backdrop of the ongoing infrastructure development, Prima Cheese recorded yet another successful year in 2018, in terms of sales, also strengthening its own brand identity and that of its individual products. Nima comments: “Because the raw ingredients that we use, are exclusive to Prima Cheese worldwide, our products continue to grow in popularity. Alongside our Blend brand, which we pioneered just under ten years ago, the Elite range – coming in a shredded format, has experienced the most significant increase in sales, allowing us to grow our market share in the process.

“We have channelled our efforts to create distinguished packaging, so that we can push the Prima name and brand and help people understand that it is not just a foodservice product, but a brand in its own right. In our industry, it is common to use simple boxes and bags, but we decided to go against the norm and take a kind of a retail-esque approach, which we have done very successfully,” Nima discusses the packaging rebrand undertaken by the company last year.

He also makes the point that Prima Cheese’s new and colourful look is a vital part of the business’ proposition in the international market. “Export is growing immensely for us and it now represents 30 per cent of our business, which is an impressive figure, given that we started selling abroad only about eight years ago,” Nima says. “We have noticed that our existing customers – be it in the Middle East or South East Asia, for example, want us to replicate our branding for them and in this, we perfectly achieve our slogan, which is ‘Prima stretches further’. We are keen on offering full assistance to our clients when it comes to providing them with marketing support, such as the creation of various promotional materials or website designs, thus engaging with them beyond the level of mere delivery of high-quality cheese.”

A key detail of Prima Cheese’s future export strategy involves entering the retail markets of the company’s targeted geographical areas. Unlike the UK, where the organisation has no intention of leaving the foodservice sector, the abundance of retail opportunities abroad has stimulated it to intensify its overseas endeavours.

“One of the new production lines we are equipping our site with, will give us the necessary capabilities to serve this space,” Nima reveals. “Ever since we began trading internationally, the Middle East has been an important market for us, but it is becoming quite saturated, so we feel that South East Asia is the part of the world that is showing untapped potential at the moment. We have already been present there for many years, but there is so much more that can be done, as eating habits change and consumers are becoming more open to dairy products that have never before been in their diet. Not long ago, we obtained our permit to export to China, which is not an easy licence to get, so we are excited about the opportunities we find there,” he adds.

New vegan range
Courtesy of the increase of its overseas sales, Prima Cheese was included on the prestigious Sunday Times International Track 200 list that acknowledges Britain’s fastest growing export companies. An early highlight of 2019 for the company, it has now shifted its focus on developing a range of new products that reflect the consumer requirements of the day.

“We can see that the need for a wider vegan selection in the foodservice industry is finally catching up with the popularity vegan products have in retail,” Nima states. “I would even venture to say that we should no longer be classifying the consumption of vegan foods as a trend – rather, it has already established itself almost as a mainstream habit, and we need to address the situation in a fast and accurate manner.

“The company is now working on new vegan cheeses and the initial trials we have run, show that they will be quite superior to the products that are already in the market. Our approach to developing the range is informed by our strong belief that, in order to win consumers over and sway their preferences towards vegan products, you need to offer something that is as similar as possible to the original. There will always be a difference between dairy and vegan cheeses, but if you manage to make the latter taste almost the same as the former, then people will be willing to consume it more often, especially when you take into account the health benefits provided by vegan products,” Nima reasons.

Closing in on the completion of its extension programme, Prima Cheese’s main target for 2019 is to increase its sales and fill up the capacity of the new production lines. “We are an ambitious company who always wants more,” Nima insists. “Previously, we had three production lines who ran 24 hours, but now we want all five lines to operate on a 24/7 basis and I am confident that we can achieve that this year.

“2018 was all about building the foundations of our future growth. We took our time to ensure that the structure of the business is strong enough to accommodate the increase in business we expect to see. On a 75more personal level, myself and my sister, Nagma, who is our Commercial Director, want to guarantee that the vision of our parents – Mr. and Mrs. Beni, is implemented and their legacy is established for many years to come,” he concludes, lauding Prima Cheese’s family heritage.