Budget brands that stand up to the big names

STRONG sales in India and China are helping a Yorkshire toiletries and household goods firm achieve stellar growth as it plans new product launches this year.

Multibrands International, which is based in Bradford and makes items ranging from batteries and superglue to toothpaste, condoms and baby wipes for sale in supermarkets, chemists and general retailers, has grown sales to 18m in Britain in the 13 years since it was founded by competing with some of the best-known names on the high street.

Now it hopes to increase global turnover, which reached 73m last last year, on the back of another push in Asian markets which have so far proved recession-proof.

The firm, set up by the Hussain family after years spent in wholesale supply, has increased its foothold in Britain's so-called fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector as hard-pressed shoppers seek to cut their spending on basic items.

Now it makes 55 products under 13 brands and will soon launch another six imprints, including an energy drink and cleaning and glue products.

Stuart Sprowell, a full-time non-executive director, said Multibrand's next phase of growth would come from the East. It recently set up a distribution centre in Suzhou in China which will help it to increase its presence there and export to Australia. It also plans to expand its sales team in India, where it has more than 100 workers in Mumbai, from next month.

"We are really expanding at the moment and we expect that to develop over the next 24 months. We are moving into new markets.

"When we started out a lot of people said it would not be a successful business because of its rivals being big companies like Unilever. We are a small company and have established our own brands (by) marketing them in the UK initially."

Multibrands, which makes Supacell batteries, Ultraloc Superglue, Tushies Baby Wipes, Flourodine Toothpaste and Essence Sanitary Napkins for customers such as Asda, Morrisons, Maplin, Netto and Tesco, aims to win business from better-known rivals by undercutting their prices without sacrificing quality.

It is one of a number of FMCG firms based in Yorkshire or with an operation here.

Reckitt Benckiser, the Dettol disinfectant to Nurofen painkiller maker, employs about 1,300 in Hull at its manufacturing and research and development sites while Northern Foods – which makes Goodfella's pizzas and is currently subject to takeover interest from Boparan Holdings, which wants to gatecrash its planned merger with Irish rival Greencore – is based in Leeds.

Mr Sprowell, 48, who joined Multibrands five years ago with a background in graphic design, said the firm has been helped by the stand-out branding on its products.

"We tended to make the design quite striking and that has helped us. A lot of people are picking up the packets and comparing them to major brands.

"Consumers are looking to make savings and are starting to look at alternative brands to do that. We have a good strong brand that attracts people."

The firm uses the same brands in its Asian markets with just the products' descriptions and instructions changed into the local language.

The company said its success overseas had helped it to "steal a march" on David Cameron's vision for Britain to double the value of its trade to India and China by 2015, despite the barriers to market entry.

Mr Sprowell said: "It can be quite difficult to to get a foothold and break the market and you have to deal with all the regulations that different countries have got.

"There is quite a lot of work involved but once you get started things falling (into place) rapidly."

Multibrands will also exhibit at a trade fair in Moscow in February as it tries to establish itself in the Russian retail market.

Susan Ward, general manager, said: "We are reaching parts of the world which other retailers cannot even comprehend.

"We are growing at an amazing rate and we certainly believe that our products are superior and capable of going toe-to-toe with absolutely anyone."

Multibrands goes global

Multibrands International began as a wholesale supply business in 1998 and launched Easylite lighters, its first brand, the following year.

Today it operates in more than 50 countries including across continental Europe, Egypt, Australia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Cyprus, Mali, Sudan, Morocco, Nigeria, the Seychelles, Fiji, India, Brunei, Oman and China.

In 2008 it opened a telesales operation in India with staff dealing with the British independent convenience and pharmacy sector.

Now Multibrands has 60 staff in Britain and about 1,000 staff and contractors around the world.