The Middle East is the second largest consumer of dairy products globally. Australia is the world’s third largest exporter of the same goods. Yet the two are barely connected, with Australian products representing just 8 percent of the region’s imported milk, cheese, butter and milk powder.
But that is about to change according to Gary Helou, CEO of Australia’s largest dairy company, Murray Goulburn.
“We should have been here a long time ago but we’re here now and we have big ambitions and big aspirations to achieve,” Helou tells CEO Middle East on the eve of the company opening its new Dubai office that it hopes will put it on a better footing to penetrate the market.
“We want to double our business in this part of the world. We want to enter the three big channels of ingredients, food, service and retail. We think we have the products, the brands and the quality to win here in the long-term.”
But it’s the short term that Helou has on his mind. Within six to twelve months, he wants to see Murray Goulburn’s key products on the shelves of Middle Eastern supermarkets for the first time, starting with cheese and butter, as well as in more restaurants.
The company, a cooperative of Australian dairy farmers, already provides ingredients such as bulk powder, cheese and butter to food manufacturers including Nestle, Hines and Saudi Arabian company Almarai, which reprocess it to make their own products.
It also supplies powder and butter to Dubai-based airline Emirates but it is pushing to expand that to include cheese and long-life milk. Emirates’ soon-to-be approved alliance with Australian flagship carrier Qantas may give the dairy supplier extra weight to encourage more of its products onboard.
“We’re talking to Emirates now [and] we’re eyeing international hotels and other institutions,” Helou says.
“We’re a big supplier of ingredients products and we’re determined to expand that business, but also add to it the food service and retail [sectors].”
The Middle East imports a combined 1.2 million tonnes of dairy produce a year, valued at $3.95bn. Australia accounted for just $296m of that total during 2011-12.
Helou is confident the Aussie farmers will be able to reach their target of a 20 percent share of the market in just a few years. With Murray Goulburn making up half of the country’s dairy exports, it stands to raise more than $150m annually if it is successful.
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