CELEBRITY chef Aldo Zilli has teamed up with an Exeter food company to launch a new range of Italian cheeses.
Italia Formaggi was established two years ago by Luc Logan and Ian Hopkins. Based at the Regus centre on Exeter Business Park, the specialist importer now supplies Sainsbury's and Waitrose with own-brand cheeses, as well as other retailers, wholesalers, restaurants and catering businesses.
National account manager Martin Loader, who joined the company 18 months ago to help with sales and marketing, believed there was a gap in the market for a new cheese brand supplying UK retailers.
"I looked at supermarket shelves and saw that two-thirds of the cheese on sale was own-label, which is unusually high compared with other types of food and drink," he said. "The remaining third is very fragmented, with no one brand across all the cheeses.
"So my idea was to create a brand to use across all the cheeses, but I knew it's very hard to create a brand from scratch and you need a lot of money."
So he approached Aldo, who was quick to see the potential of a new range of Italian cheese products with him as an ambassador for the brand.
After several months of planning, the Divo Italiano brand is set to be launched in September. Its range of five Italian cheeses will initially be stocked by Ocado and selected Morrisons stores, and Martin hopes more retailers will soon follow.
"We went to Italy a few times to source the cheeses because Aldo had to be happy with the quality," said Martin. "They are all cheese makers we already work with but we are asking them to do something they haven't done before in terms of recipes or packaging formats."
Divo Italiano is targeting sales of £1m in its first year, rising to £2–3m as more retailers come on board. Its website, designed by Exeter-based Toucan Design, will feature recipes from Aldo and advice on how to use various Italian cheeses.
Italia Formaggi expects to grow its six-strong team as the new brand takes off.
Divo Italiano has already won awards at two major cheese shows. At the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich, which this year attracted a record 4,286 entries, its cubed Gorgonzola won a gold award as best in class for Italian soft cheeses, while its Ricotta twin pots were 'very highly commended'. Its coarsely grated heart of Parmigiano Reggiano won a bronze award at the Royal Bath & West Show.