The $22m (€20m) plant will manufacture white cheeses for the Saudi Arabian market, the fifth largest dairy importer in the world.
Initially, it will employ 30 people, although an Ornua spokesperson told DairyReporter many more jobs are expected in the coming years.
The plant will also provide a central hub to access the high growth dairy markets in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.
Ornua CEO Kevin Lane said the opening of the Al Wazeen facility is strategically important to Ornua as it provides the business with a new route to market for Irish dairy.
Technology developed with Teagasc
The facility will use technology developed by Ornua and Teagasc, the national research and development agency, to produce a range of bespoke fresh white cheeses for the bakery sector, retail delis and foodservice customers.
“In conjunction with Teagasc, we developed applications knowledge on fresh recombined cheese. White cheeses are hugely popular in the MENA region. The technology allows milk ingredients to be recombined for fresh white cheese production,” the spokesperson told DR.
The plan is to use primarily Irish milk powders.
Cheese specific to MENA
The spokesperson said that the cheeses being produced – labneh, feta and white cheeses – are specifically for the MENA market.
The facility will include an ‘Innovation Hub,’ which will be used to co-develop customized ‘white cheese’ with customers, specific to the MENA region, the Ornua spokesperson told DR.
Huge potential market for Ornua
Dairy sales in the MENA region are growing by 6-8% per annum. The cheese market alone is valued at more than $1.1bn (€1bn) annually, and this is a market Ornua is keen to develop, as the spokesperson told DR that the regional dairy market is expected to be in excess of $19bn by 2020.
“To compete successfully in added value categories requires a close understanding of the regional differences and complexities.
“In 2015, we established our own legal entity in Dubai, Ornua Middle East, and increased our in market teams as part of our step change to growth in this fast growing but very competitive market.
“We launched a number of new products in the region including the Eureka kids brand in UAE, taking advantage of a market opportunity for a branded range for children. Whilst there are dairy products targeted at children, there is not a branded dairy range.”
Ornua Middle East currently employs 14 people, which is expected to rise to 26 this year.
The Riyadh facility is the latest in a series of investments by Ornua. The last 18 months has seen Ornua invest in acquisitions and significant infrastructure development in Africa, China, Germany, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the US. It comes just weeks after the acquisition of Ambrosia, a dairy facility in Shanghai, China.