As the sun rises over Tataouine, the employees of Le Sultan Dairy are busy preparing their latest batch of cheese. Farrak Soltane, the founder of the dairy and a budding cheese maker, is devoted to the quality of his products. Cow, sheep, goat and camel milk are all used in his creations. After sourcing these different types of milk from a local collection center in Tataouine, he closely oversees the cheese making process, which is at the heart of the special character and delicious taste of his dairy products.
"The curdling, moulding and draining process can sometimes take up to 48 hours," Farrak explains. "The final stage is ageing, where the cheese is stored at a carefully controlled temperature. This complex stage determines the quality, smell and taste of a good cheese."
Farrak got the idea for his business while working as an accountant in the private sector. With a degree in accountancy and six years of professional experience he felt ready to start a business but was missing one vital ingredient: knowledge of cheese making. After embarking on a vocational training course for dairy production in Tunis, Farrak started to prepare his business model.
"Originally I wanted to focus on products made with camel’s milk but when I started my business model I realized there was an issue securing the supply of raw material in the region,” says Farrak. “So I decided to expand my offering using goat, cow and sheep milk as well. Today we already produce a range of products like yogurts, ricotta cheese, lben (a fermented milk drink) as well as grated cheese and mozzarella."
In May 2017, Farrak obtained a credit of 100,000 Tunisian Dinars from the BTS (Tunisian Bank of Solidarity). With an additional 50,000 TND of personal funds, his capital investment was complete to proceed with the purchase of machines and start production.
Soon afterwards, Farrak discovered the Mashrou3i project, a public-private partnership between USAID, the Italian Cooperation, the HP Foundation, the Tunisian Government and UNIDO. The project has helped Farrak during the crucial phase of launching his startup. He received training in taxation and business management as well as technical assistance to strengthen his business.
"Thanks to Mashrou3i, I have overcome many problems that I had, especially in marketing," he says. "The UNIDO expert in Marketing and Communications helped me to completely revise my branding and also supported me in the design of the storefront and the production of my business cards."
Since then, sales have increased at his store in the city of Tataouine. "I’ve gained a lot of new customers by showcasing my products in my store, like restaurants and pizzerias who are very fond of my mozzarella," he says.
Tataouine and its proximity to the Libyan market also offers opportunities for export, which Farrak has already started to tap into. The entrepreneur is confident about the direction Sultan Dairy is going in and his plans for the future.
"The dairy sector is growing in Tataouine and in the southern regions of Tunisia,” Farrak explains. “It’s a promising sector that also great export opportunities."