Cheesy does it
Prima Cheese is future-proofing its business with a substantial expansion of its facility, hoping to attract new customers once the project is completed later in 2018
It is likely that you have already been an indirect customer to Prima Cheese, as its products are used in a multitude of items across the world. The family-owned business, specialising in shredding and blending of cheese for pizza and pasta, has experienced a marked growth, making it one of the UK’s leading manufacturers.
The company’s slogan, ‘Prima Stretches Further’ nails perfectly the current condition of the business. At the moment, Prima Cheese is undergoing the biggest expansion in its history that will see its facilities stretch to a size of 100,000 square feet upon completion. Nima Beni, who is the company’s Operations Director, tells us more about the expansion programme: “This is the main highlight for the company now. It started towards the end of 2016, and is scheduled to finish this year. The first phase, which has already been completed, involved the creation of a new warehouse space for warm materials, and we are now well into Phase 2. During this stage, we are building new chilling and freezer spaces, as well as a loading base. The following two phases will then cover the production side. We are installing a state-of-the-art production line, and an innovative block line. These stages will start in May, and we expect them to end in August or September. Once the whole programme is finished, we will be nearly twice as big in size.”
2017 was a year in which Prima Cheese decided to “hold the horses a little bit”, as Nima puts it, and reevaluate its processes, making sure that everything is being done the right way. “The work we do in one year is not really for that year, but for the year after. This is why, after we were particularly strong product-wise in 2016, we slowed down a little last year, to check that we are efficient in our services, and in the relationships with our clients,” he reasons.
Nevertheless, Nima singles out Prima Cheese’s Elite brand as the company’s best-performing product in 2017. “It is our fastest growing brand, and I think it might even be the fastest growing product in the entire foodservice market. The Elite label is our premium product, and we wanted to make sure that its quality reflects that. The work we put in to achieve the consistency in quality we were aiming for, resulted in us gaining a lot of new customers, and increasing our market share at the expense of our competitors.”
Only six years after the company first commenced its export trade, the sector has grown to contribute a hefty quarter of Prima Cheese’s overall turnover. It is the area that has improved most significantly, and Nima assures us that new opportunities for international sales will be sought proactively in the years to come, with the Asian market, in particular, offering a niche Prima Cheese products can fill in. “We are looking to increase our presence in Asia, because it is a growing market for products like cheese that have historically not been in the people’s diet, but are now becoming very popular. We entered new markets in China, the Philippines, and South Korea, as well as in Malaysia and Singapore, which are countries with lots of expats. These are all regions that are open to the introduction of new products, and we hope to gradually develop the trend,” he explains.
It is genuinely impressive how Prima Cheese blends its levelheadedness with the determination to target new markets, even if they are at a considerable distance from the company’s core market, which is pizza cheese. This is evident from the plans Nima shares with us, according to which, new Prima Cheese vegan products could see the light of day by the end of 2018. “I can see that these new, alternative products are gathering speed in the market. Truth being told, they are more popular in the retail sector than in foodservice, but a lot of restaurants and hotels are beginning to show interest in them, which is a cue for us that this might become a solid trend. People’s perception of food has changed. They now place more emphasis on the quality of food they consume, and the ingredients it is made of. The vegan foods are shown in a different light today than they were a few years ago, and people are more open to trying them. If we look at the pizza market, in particular, where we are best-positioned, pizza shops will not really buy into the popularity of vegan options unless there is a massive necessity to do so. On the other hand, restaurants and local authorities, such as schools, are increasingly attempting to introduce reduced fat, and vegan products, so we are definitely going to look at the opportunity, and try to offer new brands that cater for the market’s needs.”
As Prima Cheese is undoubtedly going strong, Nima lists some of the paramount factors for the continuous success the company is enjoying: “The first thing I would always say is that having good people within the company is key. You need to have skilled team members in every department, in order to respond to customer demands better. For us, retaining staff is very important. We have people who have worked for the company for many years, and have gradually climbed up the ladder to become managers, and we want to ensure that our staff are kept motivated and never short of progression opportunities.” He also pinpoints the clear structure the business has created, so that all the procedures are executed in the most rational way. “Our straightforward structure means that directors have more time to talk to customers, and develop various systems and policies. It has untied our hands, and allowed us to sit back and think of new concepts, without much pressure, because we know we can rely on our teams, as everyone knows what is expected of them,” Nima analyses.
It suits a big company to reach out to the community it operates within, and Prima Cheese is not an exception. The firm has been known for its active involvement in various initiatives, and Nima mentions one of the most recent events, in which the Prima Cheese team took part collectively. “We participated in the Great North Run last year. Sixteen of our employees, including myself and the Managing Director, got involved, and we managed to raise £11,000 for Cancer Research. We encouraged our customers and suppliers to donate to the cause, and they happily did so. Everyone devoted their personal time, effort, and money to get engaged. We want to stay involved in local activities as much as possible, because it is a way for us to give something back to the community.”
Turning his attention to 2018, Nima reiterates the necessity to finish the expansion project on time: “This is the big priority for us, because once the expansion is finished, we will be able to go for new customers more actively. We have been moving up very quickly, and we have placed substantial investment in the project, so we need to make sure that we know what we are doing. Our goal is to find ourselves in an even stronger position when the expansion is complete, and this might mean reviewing certain areas and streamlining the process, where necessary,” he wraps up.