NICK Bath can trace his enthusiasm for cheese back to the busy cheese counter at iconic department store Harrods in London’s upmarket Knightsbridge.
Resplendent in a white coat and boater hat, Mr Bath dispensed thousands of pounds worth of cheese every day, much of it imported direct from producers in Europe.
Looking back, the Blue Cow founder and 2004 WA Business News 40under40 winner can laugh about his natty uniform, but his time at Harrods provided an invaluable cheese apprenticeship and continues to shape Mr Bath’s ambitions for his business.
Mr Bath worked closely with the cheese buyer at Harrods at a time when a number of traditional cheeses such as buffalo mozzarella were starting to fade out in Italy.
The department store played an important role in educating customers about these hither-to unfashionable cheeses and built a new customer market for European producers.
Many of these cheeses were freighted direct from Europe to Harrods; now, two decades later, Blue Cow is giving WA cheese-lovers the chance to taste fresh, artisan cheese imported directly from Europe.
The new Just Landed brand, featuring Blue Cow’s spritely bovine with a little parachute, is showcasing cheeses from France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and England.
The Just Landed product is air freighted out of Europe every week so customers can be assured they are consuming the cheese at the peak of its freshness.
The line takes advantage of the strong Australian dollar as well as growing customer interest in the origin of their cheese.
And Mr Bath revealed plans to travel to the US in early 2012 to see if there were any opportunities to import product from North America.
Mr Bath launched the Blue Cow brand in 1998 on a stable of imported and domestic farmhouse and specialty cheeses.
The business quickly gained traction through strong working relationships with suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and top-end restaurants.
Before long the operation had diversified into a range of ‘adjacent’ products, including Maggie Beer ice-cream and Careme gourmet pastry.
In 2005, Mr Bath fulfilled another long-held dream of developing his own product range under the Blue Cow brand.
The business employs 35 staff, operates distribution centres in Belmont and Margaret River and shifts 4.5 tonnes of cheese a week.
Its success has caught the eye of at least one serious suitor after east coast food business Manassen Foods had a tilt at buying the business.
In August, Chinese food giant Bright Food paid $400 million for a 75 per cent stake in Manassen and its brand portfolio, which includes the Margaret River food brand, Laughing Cow and Babybel
At just 45 Mr Bath still has big plans for his beloved brand and while he doesn’t dismiss the idea of selling the business further down the track, he’s not ready to work for someone else just yet.
Not while there are still opportunities in his own state; and to this end he is exploring the market for his produce in the mineral-rich north-west as well as tropical Broome.
To nominate for the 2012 awards, go to www.40under40.com.au.