Italian private-label cheese manufacturer Castelli plans to expand its export business by growing sales in central and eastern Europe and Asia.

The company, which is responsible for 30% of all Parmesan cheese exports from Italy, intends to drive revenue growth by growing its business in Russia and other central European countries, well as expanding into China and Japan, Castelli UK general manager Mike Mills told just food yesterday (8 October).

“The obvious [growth] markets and an area that we will be focusing on in the coming years, are Japan and China. But also central and eastern Europe… There is an upper end of the market that hasn’t been tapped,” Mills suggested.

Speaking at international trade fair Anuga, Mills revealed Castelli generates around 60-70% of its revenues through its export business.

The group’s largest export markets are in Europe, where the firm benefits from the DOP protection for its traditional Italian cheeses. Castelli supplies own-label cheeses to European retail majors including Carrefour, Tesco, Intermarche and Systeme U. While Mills said demand has held up in the region despite the economic downturn, the mature nature of the category in western Europe does mean consumption is relatively flat.

Castelli also has a presence in the US, where it operates a joint venture. However, while Mills does see potential at the premium end of the US market, it is a “very competitive” space, he suggested. 

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As Castelli looks to grow exports, it is therefore looking to relatively untapped markets where sales will benefit from growing demand.

In CCE and Asian markets, Castelli plans to develop a premium offering and then move into the mainstream cheese sector as consumer uptake increases. “In Russia our cheeses are reasonably well known. In Asia they ae aware but it is a case of educating consumers. We start at the high end and then become more mainstream and make it more accesible,” Mills explained.

Castelli has leveraged its relationship with UK retailer Tesco to establish a presence in central Europe. “It’s about playing to our strengths,” Mills said. “As our retail customers expand, we hope to grow with them.”

In Asia, Castelli has developed an importer to move product into the region. Mills said that the group hopes to build scale in Asia over a five-to-ten year period.