Koita Foods started in 2013 in one country with only one employee and two products – and now they have 22 products across 11 countries around the world. The company’s founder, Mustafa Koita, explains how Hillebrand supports his company as it grows to distribute the best milk products from Italy to the rest of the world.
Mustafa, tell us a little about how Koita Foods got started.
I grew up in America, but a series of career events brought me to Dubai. Living overseas provided me with greater insight to the challenge of finding healthy food options for my family. There were many different options back in the US, but none in Dubai – and I wanted the best for my young growing family. I started attending food trade shows and noticed the busiest booths were milk providers. I realized there was great opportunity in this.
After exhaustive research, we found the best quality milk (dairy and plant-based) comes from the rich volcanic soils of Italy; one of the most fertile lands in the world. Once we decided on the source of our products, we developed our business model, which was 100% customer-focused. We identified young mothers as our primary market and interviewed over 1,800 mums in the region. Listening became our strongest asset. We built a grassroots following on Facebook by working with social media influencers. That exposure spread incredibly fast and sparked interest literally all over the world.
Your distribution expanded from Dubai into other parts of the Middle East, then further expanded to Singapore, Philippines and Vietnam. How did you develop a distribution plan that brought you into the United States?
It’s all about connections and finding the right partnerships. Three years ago, I met a US military contact who told me that the soldiers were looking for healthier food options while deployed. That conversation, followed by a rigorous government approval process, led to a contract to provide our products at military and government bases in the Middle East. The personnel at those bases were unable to find our products when they returned to the US and they encouraged us to expand into that market. Creating a distribution supply chain in the US at that time seemed almost impossible. That was when we reached out to Hillebrand for help.
There are a lot of factors that come into play when getting a product ready to enter the US – from FDA approvals to having the right paperwork for customs and negotiating rates. I had limited time to figure out the global and local logistics for my supply chain and knew I needed an experienced, but agile partner who could help with all of the details.
Explain your relationship with Hillebrand.
Hillebrand first appeared on our radar when we learned about their VinLiners, which are insulation liners that protect contents in containers and trailers from extreme temperatures. The VinLiners protected our products during shipment at a fraction of the cost of a traditional refrigerated container. That discovery led to learning about the other services Hillebrand offered. I realized Hillebrand was a one-stop shop and checked off all the logistics boxes I needed under one roof instead of having to find multiple partners. The experts at Hillebrand provide dedicated teams to help with customs, duty, all documentation, warehousing and even last mile delivery – that was a huge win in my book.
How would you describe Hillebrand’s knowledge of import/export regulations?
There is no team out there who would do as much as Hillebrand did for my company. They walked me through tough border guidelines and regulations. I learned so much from them about customs, duty rates and how to obtain our ruling with little-to-no friction.
What are some key things that make your day-to-day easier with Hillebrand as a partner?
I use the myHillebrand app every day. I can track the status of shipments. It helps ease my mind to know where my product is across the world and when it will arrive at its destination. I can also review and pay invoices online.
Service is 100 times better than my experiences with other providers. I know I can make a call and get someone from the Hillebrand team on the phone, no problem.
How would you describe Hillebrand’s team strengths?
The Koita team and I don’t have time for all of the logistics involved in getting our milk products across borders. Hillebrand makes that an easy and organic process (no pun intended).
Hillebrand is a true partner. They are helping me grow, and growing with me. One of the things that I appreciate the most is that they are real problem solvers. I ask a lot of questions and come up with a lot of random ideas. The team always provides me with 2-3 solutions to solve a problem, and quickly. They are flexible, quick with turnaround and totally professional while also personal and friendly – not stiff like other providers. They are as passionate as I am about my product and its success. Hillebrand puts themselves in the customers’ shoes to find the best solution at the best price. I love that I have a team dedicated to my company and my needs. They are easy to communicate with and always at the ready.
Where do you see your business in 10 years and how can Hillebrand help you to continue to grow globally?
My vision is to see Koita products on every breakfast table, in every lunchbox and included with every dinner in the future. The US is the first truly developed, major market we have entered. We couldn’t have established our US network without Hillebrand.
We have our sights on other global regions where the need for healthy food options is underserved. So, where does Hillebrand provide import/export services, transportation, special product protection and warehousing? All over the world? Then that’s where we can continue to grow! All I can say is, in this business, choosing the right partner matters. I can’t think of a better partner to help us reach our vision of the future.
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About Koita Foods
Koita Foods is a family-run, minority-owned, international business inspired by a genuine desire to help families eat healthier. Founded in Dubai in 2013, the company sells organic, lactose-free and dairy-free milks at 1000+ retailers across 10 emerging markets spanning the Middle East and Asia. Now available in the U.S., Koita’s line of premium, Italian plant-based milks is non-GMO, shelf stable and uniquely clean tasting. Learn more at koita.com and follow @koitafoods on Instagram and Facebook.