Insights into the food and agriculture industries from industry leaders and innovators
The Cheese Baron is a local Thai brand, offering locally made dairy products including cheeses, milks, yoghurts and butter for both the consumer and food service markets. Managing Director Sorattaya Jasoria shares her story, from a dream of having her own dairy farm through to the establishment and the rise in popularity of The Cheese Baron in Thailand.
Tell us about your company and your role
I am the Managing Director of The Cheese Baron. We are a Thai dairy company, producing; milk, butter, cheese and yogurt products, entirely from milk from our dairy farm in Ratchaburi. My role in the company is to provide general management for the entire company, from supervising the farm production through to sales and distribution.
Tell us a little bit about what exactly is The Cheese Baron
The Cheese Baron brand specializes in dairy products, including ghee, and pure butter, both salted and unsalted, in addition to a range of yogurt products consisting of ready-to-drink and Greek varieties. We took the name of ‘Baron’ intending to mean we are aiming to be the legend of cheese in Thailand.
What customers are you aiming for?
Our target customers include restaurants, hotels, and the younger generation, who are health-conscious and focused on their health. Another interesting group who also love our products, are body-builders, especially our yogurt product line. The general Thai consumers are now more open to new trends that are promoted on the internet and are generally good at finding new health foods online.
What inspired you to start The Cheese Baron? Do you still feel the same way?
The initiative to create this business occurred within a short time period of only half an hour. It originated by our visit to a friend's family in Suphanburi province in central Thailand. They had dairy cows that could always be milked, thus, giving them high quality and tasty fresh milk on a daily basis. This was something that we had never experienced before. It soon became a favorite among our friends and the people around us. It made us realize that there was a huge demand for fresh dairy products, and ignited our dream of having our own dairy farm that could give us the freshest milk and which can be used to make various types of dairy products under the brand, “The Cheese Baron”.
Another factor that contributed towards the creation of our farm, was due to the fact that at that time, we were in the jewelry business, which was a high-volume business, but it also came with several high-risk factors. We had no idea what the next generation of this business would be like, and if we were able to follow the next generation trends or not, which might spell the end of our business. Therefore, we were exploring new opportunities that would help diversify risk from our existing business. Our aim was that the new business venture should consist of two key characteristics; firstly, it has to be a non-extravagant common food business that consumers can consume on a daily basis, and secondly, it had to be a high-quality business with easy access to its customers.
Our initial studies on dairy products in Thailand revealed that, there were very few high-quality cheese producers, with more than 90% of the cheeses consumed by Thais presently being imported. The market is currently valued at trillions of baht per year. We realized that this was a huge market and saw an opportunity to enter into.
How do you currently view The Cheese Baron, what stage is it in?
We are still in its initial stages. However, judging from the current feedback, we foresee that we definitely have tremendous room for further growth. Of course, we foresee more diversification of our products, both in the product line and variety. We, are now distributing both online, as well as, traditional channels through the setup of event booths, which enables consumers to become more familiar with our brand. So far, it has garnered a very positive response.
What do you see as the greatest benefit of your products? Why should customers buy them instead of your competitors?
We have the freshest milk; after being milked from the cow, the milk is immediately sent into the cooling system which keeps the milk fresh. This is different from other producers who usually collect milk from villagers or co-operatives, who do not keep the fresh milk in a cool environment immediately after the milking process. This is detrimental to the milk due to the hot Thai climate and gives rise to the presence of microorganisms which affects the shelf life and taste of the products. Additionally, certain dairy products, such as burata, cannot be produced if the milk is not fresh enough. We can assert that our milk is fresh enough to be considered for the top ranking in Thailand.
Another advantage of our cheese products, is that the production is supervised by an Italian cheese specialist. Our policy has always been to have dedicated specialists to oversee the production processes based on their particular expertise. Even on our farms, there are also specialists who manage every step of the process, right from the beginning until the very end. We even have nutritionists to manage the grass and corn fields to feed the cattle, provide care for cows and keep them as healthy as possible to ensure a constant flow of the best quality milk. Our quality control processes right from the first stages guarantees the best quality milk. When controlled from the source, it will produce the milk that we are looking for. Our breeding stock are also handpicked from the best breeds around the world.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities in the Dairy sector in Thailand?
Thailand still has a lot of opportunities for local producers in this market, because the country still imports these types of products from abroad. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the imports, leaving Thai consumers with no choice and instead having to turn to products from local producers, thus opening up wider opportunities for the industry.
What are some of the challenges your industry will face in the future?
We foresee obstacles in the dairy industry in 2025 when Thailand will be opening up to the FDA trade agreements with other foreign countries such as New Zealand and Australia, all of which are countries which draws their strength in milk production with lower production costs than Thailand due to a higher quality breed of milk cows and more favourable weather conditions. These factors contribute positively towards a higher yield of milk and which we view as a major challenge for local producers.
In addition, stipulations by the Department of Livestock Development currently forces small farmers to set up their farms based on an established set of standards which is a challenge for local farmers who are unable to adapt.
Tell us about your early career. What skills did you pick up that helped you build The Cheese Baron?
Our original roots were in the jewelery industry, and we had very limited experience and background in farming and dairy products. Jewelry is a business that requires detailed attention and caution, and we have adopted this attention to detail in our production process. Food production means that we have a certain extent of responsibility towards our customers in which we must apply great care, meticulousness, and careful attention on the whole production process.
For women who are involved in the field of business, what do you think are the key qualities to success? What is the biggest challenge for women as leaders, and is recruiting an efficient team important?
Care, fortitude, and effort, is essential especially if you have not graduated directly in this field, or have limited knowledge of what you are doing.
Therefore, it requires a tremendous amount of effort and love to learn new things all the time. For example, when we started out in producing cheese, we had to learn about the various types of cheese, what they are, how to eat it, and the different effects that it has. We also had to learn where to recruit an efficient team in each of their specialized field to collaborate with us and help create the best products.
What advice do you have for emerging leaders?
You must have passion to learn and embrace change.
What is the top quality or value that you feel helped you become a successful entrepreneur/leader?
My determination towards work, attention to detail, fortitude, and effort, have made me what I am today.
What has been your best day as an entrepreneur? Worst day?
One of the most memorable day was when we set up a booth to launch our products at the Villa Supermarket in Bangkok. We also brought along our Italian specialist who was responsible for producing our products. We distributed about 2-3 thousand free coupons for our drinking yogurt product. A lot of people brought their coupons and queued up to receive thousands of our drinking yogurt samples in a single day. Today, that particular booth at Villa Supermarket has finally become a permanent booth for selling our products.
Thankfully, we haven’t had any disasters yet!
What traits do you look for when hiring people for your team?
Attitude is very important factor, people who are ready to go through every situation and adapt. Attentive and receptive to learning new things, and not to be arrogant.
What does the future hold for you and The Cheese Baron?
We aim to be Thailand’s No.1 local cheese producer, but at the same time it has to be produced by experts from the country of origin of each cheese product. Our current cheese maker comes from generations of cheese makers in Italy. He was raised on a dairy farm and s his family’s third generation, and considered to be an original cheese maker. He also has the support of his grandparents and parents as his mentors.
Tell us one great thing about your company
Definitely our team. Every department, from agriculture, livestock, production line, sales, and right up to our delivery team, all of which are integral to our success.