The Middle East will be the “growth engine” for dairy giant Fonterra in the years ahead, a leading executive for the New Zealand-based group has told just-food.

In an exclusive interview, Arm Farghal, managing director of Fonterra’s Middle Eastern unit, said the company had seen double-digit growth in the region over the last three years – while growth had also been maintained amid the global economic downturn.

“I strongly believe the Middle East is going to be the growth engine for Fonterra brands for years to come. We have proved it in the last three years, where we have been growing the business year-on-year in the solid double-digits,” Farghal said.

“Last year, the world changed in September or August. In the Middle East, we were still able to deliver very solid growth during that particular fiscal year, which is again a testimony of how significant the opportunity is to grow in this part of the world.”

Fonterra’s record in the world’s emerging dairy markets has been patchy in recent months. Its Chinese partner Sanlu was central to last year’s melamine scandal, while Fonterra has indicated it will quit its venture in India.

Nevertheless, Fonterra still has ambitions to expand in the emerging markets – most notably in the Middle East and Africa.

In April, Fonterra announced a deal establishing a venture with Egypt’s Arab Dairy Products Co. Under the agreement, the Egyptian dairy company manages the processing and distribution of the New Zealand firm’s Anchor brand throughout Egypt.

“The primary focus for us is on the GCC markets [Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE] but we span beyond the GCC to other geographies, including the east Mediterranean, East Africa and CIF countries, where we have smaller operations,” Farghal said.

For more on just-food’s interview with Fonterra’s Arm Farghal, click here.