Chef Middle East has always carried a strong Dairy products portfolio and is one of the few go-to distributors available in the market when it comes to supplying a wide range of speciality cheeses to customers. The growth of the distributor’s Dairy category year-on-year is over 20% from the past two years, which demonstrates a high degree of trust from customers regarding Chef Middle East products quality and higher service level. Chef Middle East continuously explores the global dairy markets to keep their portfolio growing and up-to-date with the industry trends. They also work closely with their brands and partners on product development projects to deliver innovative solutions to the market.
Jiji Mathews, Dairy Category Manager at Chef Middle East, provides expert insights about the industry and the Dairy solution that the company offers.
What are the new products that you offer in the Dairy Solution?
Jiji Mathews: This year, we have introduced a range of new products within the Dairy category, which includes:
- Launch of the “Cheese box” with an assortment of 10 to 12 variants of speciality cheeses. The Cheese box includes cheeses such as Pont L’Eveque, Fourme D’Ambert, Camembert de Normandie, Sainte Maure De Touraine, Epoisse Le Saint Germain, to name a few.
- Launch of Arla Pro High stability Whipping Cream and Blended creams
- Launch of Buffalo Burrata and Buffalo Ricotta from Fattorie Garofalo, Italy
- Launch of Dairy Sauces
- Launch of Margarine from Bebo, Netherlands
- A range of Vegan cheeses are also arriving soon ..
What is the one main trend you’re seeing in the dairy industry right now?
Jiji Mathews: The trends depend on the type of customers and quality they want to offer. However, in the high-end dining outlets, there is an increased demand for artisanal cheeses and every customer is looking at serving something different. We also see a surge in flavoured cheeses including some flavours such as lavender, truffle, sriracha, cranberries, sage etc. In addition, there is a growing demand for Vegan, Organic and Lactose-free cheese options.
How has the industry changed over the past few years?
Jiji Mathews: The industry is changing in different ways. Some producers are working on bringing solutions and value addition as prices of raw milk is very volatile and new innovations can fetch better profitability. Some others are going back to basics and offer more authentic products with increasing the value.
What are the biggest challenges you are facing in the industry?
Jiji Mathews: The biggest problem has been the availability of raw milk and the prices that are volatile. Another challenge the industry is facing is in fake/misleading labelling practices by some producers, mostly related to protected cheese names that must come from a specific geographic area. However, one of the challenges in the Middle East is the local production, where the availability is limited to very few products and the majority is still imported.
How well does the Middle East region take to new products? Is it a good market for new items or does it prefer old favourites?
Jiji Mathews: The Middle East being such a large demography, it will be difficult to comment for the region. However, the countries within ME with high expatriates’ population are relevant potential markets for new products; UAE being one of the most promising market when it come to new products within this category.
Do you expect the dairy industry to continue growing in the Middle East? In what areas do you foresee the most growth?
Jiji Mathews: Yes, the region will continue to grow for the dairy industry. However, the product mix will evolve based on the business type. For example, we can see that majority of pizza chains moving to mozzarella with 100% milk fat compared to the blended mozzarella in the past. Also, the mozzarella is now mixed with other variants of cheeses for differentiation in recipe. We also see a trend in burger concepts using natural cheeses compared to the processed cheese in the past.
What has been the customer feedback on your latest products?
Jiji Mathews: The new products are well received if it is launched based on the customer needs and are marketed well. Many distributors make the mistake to launch products without understanding the customer needs and procure just because they cost lower. The key to success in foodservice is to understand the needs of both Chefs and the end consumers.