Sheffield start-up secures major export deal with Middle East retail giant

Natalia Welch, founder of Pura Panela

Sheffield-based food company Pura Panela has secured a distribution contract with Middle East hypermarket chain LuLu after exhibiting at Gulfood in Dubai, the world’s largest food and drink trade show.

The firm imports and distributes panela, an artisan made dried sugar cane juice, which is made by farmers in Colombia. It has been used in South America for generations as a natural alternative to refined sugar.

Pura Panela attended Gulfood in February 2018 as part of the Northern Powerhouse delegation, where it won a trial contract with LuLu. After the initial trial period, Pura Panela’s product could potentially be stocked in the retailer’s 128 outlets across the Middle East.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) supported Pura Panela at Gulfood by arranging meetings with Middle Eastern food and drink trade buyers.

Defra and DIT have been supporting UK food and drink exporters in the region as part of Food is GREAT, the UK Government’s cross department campaign to showcase UK food and drink overseas and to help firms to export.

It’s the first time Pura Panela, which started trading as a fully ltd company in 2017, has exported its products to the Middle East. The business had already secured sales in Switzerland, the Netherlands and the US through its website, and is in talks with Kuwaiti distributors to supply products to the country’s hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Natalia Welch, founder of Pura Panela, said: “Supplying our panela to LuLu carries huge potential for the future of our business, and we’re really excited to be making inroads to the Middle East.

“Our DIT International Trade Adviser encouraged us to consider targeting the Gulf states, and invited us onto the Gulfood trade mission. We were so impressed with how constructive the trip was. We made lots of contacts, saw first-hand what the market looked like, and had a lot of great feedback on our products.

“One big takeaway from the trade show was how well respected British food and drink products are. If you are a UK company and you go abroad it can be so much easier to stand out. We’d encourage all food and drink start-ups to aim further afield than the UK. If we can win business abroad, so can you.

“I set out to launch Pura Panela with the mindset that it would be an international business. A lot of firms who sell overseas via their websites don’t naturally consider themselves exporters, but with a web presence you can easily open shop all over the world.

“Defra and DIT played a key advisory role for the business once we started receiving online orders from overseas, and their help in overcoming the challenges associated with exporting proved crucial, particularly navigating food and drink regulation.”

Mark Robson, head, UK Regions – Yorkshire and Humber,  at the Department for International Trade, said: “Yorkshire and the Humber firms exported £1.1 billion worth of food and drink in 2017, over £19 million of which went to the Gulf states, a 10% increase on 2016.

“More of our region’s firms are realising the potential in Middle Eastern markets. We have trade missions, such as Gulfood, going to these regions each year, and we encourage firms to get in touch and book their place on one to help kick-start or expand their exporting presence.”


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