UK-based, breakfast-focused business Moma Foods is more than a decade old and, after carving out a foothold domestically, is starting to strategically look at growing its fledgling positions in its overseas markets. Dean Best spoke to Moma Foods managing director Pete Joubert to find out more.

Moma Foods, the UK porridge, muesli and smoothie maker that started its business 12 years ago selling to commuters at London railway stations, is setting in train a strategy to grow overseas.

The privately-owned company, set up by Bain & Co. management consultant Tom Mercer in 2005, has listings with the UK’s four largest grocers and, while it believes there are still ample opportunities to expand domestically, has decided to look at its international options more strategically.

Speaking to just-food at Anuga, the first time Moma Foods has attended the giant industry trade show, managing director Pete Joubert says the company does business in “around 15-20 countries”, a presence he describes as the “test stage” for the business outside the UK.

Joubert, who joined Moma Foods from Danone in 2014, says the consumer trends the company has ridden in the UK are present internationally and the firm, having seen demand for its products in some of its early-stage overseas markets, has decided to act.

“We’ve found proof of premise that there’s just not enough hours in the day and that morning’s a very, very busy time. People want convenience and health in the morning. That’s not just true to the UK, anywhere in the world, particularly urban, city areas, people are pushed for time and want more convenient breakfast products,” Joubert explains.

“Our key focus is still the UK. We’ve got a long way to go there [but] international wasn’t a priority for us up until recently, when we invested in sales resource and started to look beyond the UK for growth. Why not? There should be a lot of growth to be had.”

Moma Foods’ presence internationally varies by market. Joubert says some of its overseas markets are “more established than others”, with its positions at times built reactively after being approached by importers or local distributors. The stance is now more proactive. “What we’re doing is just trying to find the right partners, the right places to support us, and kind of get tested. We’re very much entrepreneurial with it. We just want to test and learn and see which ones take off or not, then we’ll know which ones to back more.”

Europe is set to be a region of focus. “It makes the most sense,” Joubert says with a chuckle, “while we’re in the EU.” However, alongside the – at present – ease of doing business with the region, Joubert says countries in northern Europe already have significant demand for oat-based products, while, more broadly, Europe is a whole is seeing its breakfast market start to mimic the consumption habits seen in the UK.

“It’s still more niche in terms of convenient pots and things like that. A lot of Europe is still very traditional,” Joubert reflects. “For example, we’ve entered into the Netherlands. They love their bread and their cheese for breakfast. It’s very traditional in a way. France is the same but, given the awareness of oats, it’s changing and the trend of people being busier and pushed for time.”

Moma Foods is looking to build its business overseas in a similar way to it grew in the UK, targeting first foodservice clients and the travel sector. “The first place we start is with the porridge pots, the more premium format product. That seems to work in foodservice contract caterers, airlines – that travel sector whether it’s trains or airlines or cafes. It’s very similar to our background in the UK actually. We started in train stations, selling to commuters.”

Overall, however, Moma Foods now generates the majority of its turnover – expected to be GBP4.3-4.5m (US$5.7-6m) in 2017 – from its grocery retail accounts. In the UK, the company has listings with the country’s Big Four – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons. Joubert says Moma Foods is growing at 25-30% a year but has “a long way to go” in the UK.

“The main focus is growing our porridge range, both the pots and the sachets, but we can see the sachets becoming a bigger bit of our world because it’s the biggest bit of the category,” he explains.

Moma Foods has just secured a listing for its porridge sachets in Tesco, something of a coup given the significant competition in cereal and especially in that part of category with the might of PepsiCo and Quaker the dominant brand. How did Moma Foods convince Tesco to take on its products, especially with the around 30% premium to Quaker products?

“We are at a premium, and we try to be premium because of our quality and our size of portion,” Joubert insists. “It can be really tough to break in [but] we’ve got a bit of a proven track-record. I think having the right consumer data is very important to demonstrate the role that we have in the category. We’re not saying ‘You don’t need Quaker.’ They are absolutely the benchmark; they’re the industry standard. What we can show is we appeal to completely different audiences – much healthier, much foodier. We offer something different in terms of quality, free-from credentials, and just that kind of on-trend brand.”

Beyond the launch in Tesco, Moma Foods will be looking to build the number of stores in which it is listed and look to secure business with The Co-op, the UK’s sixth-largest grocer, where, at present, its products are not stocked.

Overall, Moma Foods is aiming to continue to grow at that 25-30% a year, based on broadening its UK business – plans that also include expanding in foodservice – and building on early foundations overseas. Within three years, Moma Foods is looking to see its turnover grow to GBP10m, with 5-10% of that coming from markets outside the UK.

As the business has grown rapidly, has it received takeover interest? “A few [times] actually, yes,” Joubert says. “I’d say more in the last year, when we’re maybe getting to a size that I’d say we start showing up on the data houses, that people start sniffing around. But there’s no plans [to sell].”