We customised our offering to suit overseas markets

Overview

Ford Farm, winner of the Export Award in the highly prestigious Dorset Business Awards 2009, is a Dorset based cheese producer, specialising in the production of hand-made, supreme quality cheeses.

What makes our cheese so special is not just how it is made, but where it is made, who makes it and how. Our manufacturing base is in the heart of the Ashley Chase Estate in Dorset on the rolling Dorset downs and with views towards the Jurassic Coast - now a world heritage site.

All Ford Farm Cheese is made from milk from our own Dorset herds supplemented by a few selected neighbours and all are made to traditional recipes and methods which date back generations.  The cheese is made by hand, not by machine, and the hands that make it belong to people who have learned cheese making as a craft, many from their parents.

The challenge

Ford Farm brands now had excellent distribution in the UK though the main customer base has always been the major multiples.

We wished to increase the size of our business, without allowing any of our UK customers to account for more than 20% of our total business.  It was for this reason that we decided to turn our sights to overseas markets.

The Solution

Our first target was the USA.  The Americans have a very romantic notion of farming, and, as we are a farm and our milk comes from local herds, including those on the Ashley Chase Estate, we were convinced that the Americans would buy into our proposition.

We scrutinised our extensive product portfolio and picked those products that would have appeal to the US and later used our research to develop products especially for that market. We made adaptations to the packaging tailored to the market, flagging up clearly that our cows produce milk without the use of hormones and none of our ingredients contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's).

Although treating livestock with hormones is not allowed in the EU we need to make our US customers aware of this as it is commonplace there and many European cheeses are manufactured using GMO's.  We also made our US customers aware that our cheeses are ethically produced with all livestock being "happy".

Since those humble beginnings, Ford Farm now exports one third of its production per annum.  Our principal export markets are the US and Canada which account for 25% of our total sales and all exports account for 30% of total sales.

To be able to maintain and build our overseas sales we continually have to evolve our offering.

Key Lesson

Don't put all your eggs in one basket!

Our reason for entering the export market was to increase the size of our business without losing the security of a diversified customer base.  At Ford Farm our business mantra is to ensure that no one single customer accounts for more than 20% of total turnover.  Looking abroad was the best business solution as we were able to retain this security as well as trade with customers ordering meaningful volumes

Top Tip

Offer training to overseas customers! We employ a rigorous training programme to help our customers differentiate our cheese from all the others they are selling.  Frequent training keeps our brands front of mind so sales staff are more likely to suggest them to customers.  Our US colleagues regularly visit us here in Dorset to be brought up to date with recent developments and so the values of the company can be continually reinforced.

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