The sisters shaking up the cheese industry

Posted: 19 December 2023 | | No comments yet

How has Extons gone from a small-loss making business which supplied local sandwich shops with grated cheese to a family company on course to turn over £100 million?


Extons started life in 2000 when founder, Liz Parkinson, made the decision to purchase a small cheese delivery round, delivering to local shops and cafes around Stockport. A couple of years later, she spotted a gap in the market for natural sliced cheddar cut to the exact shape of a slice of bread. 

This niche idea opened many opportunities and the company moved into supplying sandwich manufacturers. It was during this time that Extons quickly gained a reputation for providing a high-quality product and service. 

Her sister, Rachael, joined the company in 2003 to help build sales and later were joined by their father, and husbands who now hold vital roles within the company. 


Extons is owned by Liz and Rachael Parkinson, sisters who reinvested in a new site in Wythenshawe in 2013

The sisters worked brilliantly together, as the business grew they reinvested in a new site in Wythenshawe in 2013. Since then, year-on-year, the sisters have continued to re-invest; upgrading and investing in modern, cutting-edge production and now boast a 54,000 square foot facility. 

Navigating the pandemic

Once COVID-19 hit, Extons lost 70 percent of its sales overnight. Luckily, its decision to change their focus, and increase their contract packing targeting retail specifically, enabled the business to grow throughout that challenging period. 

The business now has four production lines and is one of the UK’s largest independent suppliers of sliced and grated cheese. With 23 years of experience under their belts, Extons processes 450 tonnes of cheese a week, employs 150 staff and is a trusted contract packer for some of the most recognisable names in dairy from across the UK.

Trends in the Cheese Category

So, what are the retailers looking for in the cheese category at the moment?

Parkinson says: “As you would expect with the current economic climate, price and, of course, value are two of the highest priorities in what retailers are looking for. “Deflationary prices are top of the agenda, but for us at Extons, it has to come from cheesemakers, who are hard pressed at this moment and with milk prices rebounding upwards, some of the recent gains will be short lived

“There still remains a pressure to meet rising expectations on packaging reduction, especially plastic, and retailers look for their own brand protection through a series of audits and technical assurances throughout the chain. 

“The sliced convenience market remains buoyant, showing that the format is here to stay, finding the new winner on type, size or pack is the holy grail for retailers. 

“This market sector has always been dominated by own label, which is the direction of travel for all major retailers and must be pressuring demand on branded premium offerings.” 

£4 million investment for Extons 

Meanwhile, the exceptional company growth at Extons will continue in 2024. Extons have recently signed off a £4 million investment to extend the current premises and add a secondary grating line. 

The new unit includes a secondary grating line, committed to retail and servicing retail clients. This new grating line will reduce changeovers and will open opportunities to supply retail directly. This new line is expected to be fully functional by September 2024. 

The unit also provides an additional 250 pallet spaces and includes a planned extension of warehouse, packing room and production lines to ensure a safer and better working environment for Extons staff.

With 2023 on course for a record-breaking year in turnover, it has also been breaking other records. The business has seen an 18 percent increase in volume, and an impressive 99.5 percent achievement of service levels, despite the huge increase in volume. 

A people-first company, the decision to keep their base in Wythenshawe is based on the company’s commitment to look after their workforce, and to enable them to offer much-needed employment and provide crucial investment into the local area.

From turning over £65m in 2022, the company is now on course for a record-breaking year, forecasted to turnover £100 million in 2023, it has also just won a major award, for Family Business of the Year from The Business Desk. 

So, how did it all begin? Parkinson explained: “When I initially bought the loss-making business, I heard from multiple customers who had voiced concern about the previous owner’s product quality.  

“I made it my mission to supply a quality product and worked hard to ensure our customers knew we were true to our word. I stood by the values of consistent quality, and a product that would be delivered on time. 

And it’s these values that have stayed at the heart of the business for the last 22 years. We’re proud to say that we have fantastic loyalty from both customers, and employees, many of whom are still with us from those early days.”

Being two young women in the industry also presented itself with numerous challenges. Liz said: “No one knew who Extons were and there were large established cooperatives that dominated the market. 

“We stayed unperturbed and mustered up a quiet resilience which enabled the business to grow and in 2018, we decided to invest heavily into retail where we found success supplying into the UK’s major retailers. 

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“The retail side of the business helped us stay afloat, particularly following Brexit and COVID. Our loyal staff pulled out all the stops, going above and beyond every day.

Committed to Corporate Social Responsibility

Committed to their corporate social responsibility, Extons was one of the first in the industry to make the move into recyclable packaging for both sliced and grated packs, and are committed to reducing their carbon footprint year-on-year, through constant evaluation and upgrades to energy-efficient equipment and packaging. 

Alongside this, the company is invested into its own sustainability efforts through introducing a new on site recycling centre to continue the work the teams are doing in reducing their company carbon footprint. 

So, what is the secret to success, and what makes Extons a ‘Family Business of the Year”?

Liz said: “Being a family has been the backbone of the business. Our husbands have both offered never ending support, both at home and in work. 

Our mother was our constant cheerleader. An astute businesswoman herself and a continuous inspiration, she always supported us. 

“Most of all, as sisters we have each other’s backs. We truly are the best of friends.”

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