Somerdale exports more than 250 British cheeses and dairy products to more than 50 countries around the world.
Somerdale International is now in its 26th year of operation and has a turnover of over £32m ($45.8m), of which exports represent about 94%.
Stephen Jones, director and co-founder of Somerdale International, spoke to DairyReporter from the Exeter Food Festival in the UK.
He said Somerdale is the leading exporter of British cheese to the US, and ships cheese to China and the Far East, the Caribbean, Australia and emerging markets such as the Middle East, North Africa and Brazil.
“China is an emerging market, while the US is a mature, sophisticated market,” Jones said.
“In some markets, they are just looking for cheese as a source of protein. The US is looking for more gourmet specialty foods, so we have to treat every market differently. Even in the US, the east coast is different from the west coast is different from the Midwest.
“We've got three salespeople in the US, plus one product trainer, and they spend all their time talking to customers, retailers and trade shows.”
Imported cheese potential
Jones said the potential for growth in exporting cheese is great in the US alone.
“Imported cheese is only 4% of the cheese consumption anyway, and out of that, English cheese is a small percentage of that 4%. So that's a lot more to go for there.
“It's still quite a young market in terms of specialty foods.”
Other markets are also growing.
“I've just come back from Singapore, and years ago, they wouldn't really be interested in cheese, but the younger generation are looking to buy western products, and in the Far East it's been led by companies like Pizza Hut and McDonald's,” Jones said.
“People are eating pizza and cheese and the younger generation is embracing that.”
Variety of products
The potential for growth is large considering the number of different cheeses Somerdale can offer customers.
Products include traditional Cheddars, blue cheeses, flavored cheeses and traditional hand-made, artisan cheeses.
“We've got everything from nice farmhouse Cheddars through to blended cheeses with truffles or olives in, so it's a big market,” he said.
And the company is always willing to work with other cheesemakers, who can contact Somerdale to take advantage of the frequent shipments.
“We don't want too many conflicting products. Blended cheeses are very popular, we've got two suppliers of blended cheese, but with blended cheeses everyone copies everybody, so everyone comes up with another cheddar with jalapenos or with black pepper, so you want some innovation, innovative packaging or presentation, just to find a point of difference,” Jones said.
Ability to reach new markets
The advantage for small producers working with Somerdale is the ability to get their product into markets they might struggle to reach alone with small quantities of product.
“If we have a small farmhouse producer that just wants to sell 20 cheeses to someone in California, we have a pallet going to San Francisco, and it's quite easy to get it there. Logistically it's quite straightforward.
“We have a big warehouse in Wellington in Somerset. The hardest part is getting it to Wellington, but we're right on the M5 junction, so as long as a truck can get it there, then sooner or later we've got a container going. We ship every week to the US and most other markets every two to three weeks.”
Investing in future growth
Somerdale has invested over the last five years in its 10,000sqft, ISO 9001 accredited and fully SAP enabled, cold store and offices in Wellington.
It recently acquired an additional cold store facility adjacent to the existing Wellington operations, which will come on line later this year to provide additional capacity in line with Somerdale’s strategic growth plan.