Delamere Diary is an independently owned UK-based company producing dairy products. They supply goats’ milk products and other dairy products to retailers throughout the UK and also trade internationally. Here Ed tells us what makes the company unique and what it takes to be successful at exporting.
Hi Ed! When was Delamere Dairy set up and how did you become involved?
Delamere Dairy was started in Delamere Forest in 1985 with just three goats. Roger and Liz Sutton founded the business with a desire to farm but soon realised they would have to process, market and sell their wares as well as being at the forefront of the commercial goat industry. I joined the company in 2004 when the company turnover was £4 million. Following an MBO in 2008 and a foray into new export markets, the company now turns over in excess of £20 million, with offices in the UK and Shanghai.
What’s been your role in the company since coming on board?
Jack of all trades (and master of none)! As with many small, privately-owned businesses you tend not to be pigeon-holed into a specific position. Though your job title might say sales or marketing, it is highly likely you can be answering the phone or unloading a truck. That said, as the business has grown and the number of staff has increased, I find myself firmly in the role of MD.
What makes Delamere Dairy unique?
I am biased but I believe we have a unique culture, with strong morals and an ethical approach to business. We have three key values in the business (fun, healthy, responsible) which sit at the core of our decision-making. The company has a very flat structure, a real family business environment, with staff working with for the good of business and developing the business relationships that have evolved over the last 30 years.
What challenges did you face in getting your products into supermarkets?
I think the biggest challenge has been the perception of goats’ milk rather than the supermarkets. If you have a commercially attractive, quality product, in a growth category then retailers will at least be interested in what you have to offer. However, a niche product that many people perceive they do not like, offers a completely different challenge.
How important is exporting for the business?
Our business model offers a scalable platform for us to grow into different categories and new markets and, though the UK is our primary focus, the opportunity to look outwards into emerging export markets gives and gave us the opportunity to further ‘de risk’ our position. Export has become a key profit centre within the Delamere business and is a significant part of our future growth strategy.
What advice would you give to any small business owners thinking of trading abroad?
Do your research and groundwork. Building any sort of business, whether in the UK or overseas is a little bit like building a house or a full-scale civil engineering project. First of all you need to decide what you want, where you want it to be and how big you want it. Once you have decided, it is then a case of commitment and time. However, if you want to build a skyscraper you have to work on the foundations and exporting is no different. Once committed you have to sink time and money into the foundation of your business, make sure it is robust enough to support the size of business you want to create. You certainly don’t have to be a civil engineer or an architect, you can employ those services, but if you want a structurally solid export business you do need to spend time on the ground and understand the market.
Finally, what’s next on the horizon for Delamere Dairy?
We are lucky, we are in the food business: people need to eat and as the world population grows we intend on growing with it. Delamere is firmly positioned in the speciality milk/health market with nearly 80% of goats’ milk consumers buying our milk for health reasons. As well as being firmly positioned in the goat dairy market, we are also benefiting from the growth in speciality non-dairy milk alternatives. The UK continues to be our main bread and butter, but export will continue to drive the brand into new markets and to new health conscious consumers.
You can hear Ed, along with a panel of other successful entrepreneurs, speak at our upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs ‘Going Global’ taking place at the International Festival for Business this month. Get tickets here.