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Arla plans innovation revolution with artisan brand

By Rod Addy+

13-Sep-2013
Last updated on 13-Sep-2013 at 10:35 GMT

Arla's Unika cheeses have been developed in consultation with Denmark's top chefs
Arla's Unika cheeses have been developed in consultation with Denmark's top chefs

Dairy giant Arla Foods’ artisan cheese brand Unika, launched first in Denmark, is now ready for wider national and international distribution, according to premium foods manager John Gynther.

Unika artisan cheeses are the products of consultations between Gynther, Arla cheesemakers and chefs in Denmark’s 30 top restaurants. “We use new techniques that the top chefs are using,” Gynther told journalists at the second Nordic Food Festival, held at Aarhus in Denmark from September 6–7.

“If you let dairies develop something new they always start with what is already possible, asking ‘what equipment do I have?’” Instead, Unika started with ideas from top chefs and went from there, which Gynther described as “revolutionary thinking”.

Having supplied Unika cheeses to Denmark’s top restaurants, Arla, which has its headquarters in Denmark, has opened a small artisanal store in Copenhagen, staffed by its employees, to showcase the products. It now plans to offer the label to high-end delicatessens and niche food stores in the country.

It is also assessing the potential for markets such as the US and the UK, Gynther said. “In two weeks we are going to Nordic restaurants in Manhattan.”

Genuine innovation

He believed Unika could be used to inspire genuine innovation throughout the business, to resist over-emphasising product commoditisation and to encourage continuous quality improvement.

Arla has developed several cheeses under the Unika brand. They include one flavoured with brine and dill, another infused with alcohol and a blue cheese using cream made from 95% sheep’s milk and 5% cow’s milk.

Arun Prabhu, commercial innovation director at Arla, said: “It’s unusual to have a large company behaving like such an artisan company. Something like this doesn’t make a lot of money. However, it’s important in giving to Danish chefs what was not possible anywhere else.

“The other thing we discussed when we embarked on this journey was how to do it without compromising the relationship we have with the top 30 chefs. We offer the them exclusivity for six to 12 months after development.”

Likened to Ferrari

Prabhu likened the brand model to Ferrari. “It would take its cars to the top showrooms, but wouldn’t want them to be in every showroom. We have opened this flagship store and have started to expand beyond the top 30 restaurants to selected retail outlets.”

Arla would consider pitching the products to retailers positioned somewhere between Selfridges and Marks & Spencer, said Prabhu.

But he stressed he would not be interested in retailers that just wanted to stock shelves without being able to tell the story of the products.

Arla was also working on a training programme to equip retail staff to communicate the Unika concept and the background to products, he said.

The Unika brand dwarfs the Arla brand intentionally on packaging. “It’s a fine balance,” said Prabhu. “It should not have anything to do with the Arla brand, but there should be some communication back to Arla.”

He admitted some of the initial inspiration for the brand model had come from Carlsberg’s spin-off niche beer brand Jacobsen, which is designed to build on growing demand for craft beers.

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