ALL those starting out on the hard, but rewarding road to exports, can learn inspiring lessons from Norfeed UK Ltd.

The Boroughbridge supplier of nutritional and technical animal feed ingredients has just one family working against the challenges of BSE, the foot and mouth epidemic and the cripplingly strong pound.

The family consists of Ed Middleton, his wife, Dora, company secretary, and their son, Paul.

And yet... Norfeed is continuing to perform so brilliantly in its steady expansion of export markets that it is a serious contender for the Evening Press Exporter of the Year title.

Where turnover is expected to reach £2 million this year, 60 per cent of it will be export sales.

Supplying products, services and knowledge to the international animal feed pre-mix and compounding industry, Norfeed's turnover rose by more than 40 per cent in 1998-99 and more than 55 per cent in 1999-2000.

How was this done? Commercial director Paul Middleton says that stringent quality controls, detailed analyses and tracking systems, including veterinary inspections and sign-offs are at the root of customer confidence.

"Most of our new business is the result of recommendation and our solid reputation within the industry. We are acknowledged as problem-solvers as well as suppliers."

Managing director Ed Middleton, who founded Norfeed in 1988, said: "It's never been our intention to become directly involved in the production of animal feeds, but rather to use our experience and contacts to bring together the best products and services relevant to each market."

This has led to Norfeed pitching for another title - the Evening Press Best Environmental Company of the year.

It has patented a Bi-Modal Protection process (BMP) to solve one of the most serious environmental problems facing the feed industry - namely the emission of potentially toxic dust from finely-powdered micro-ingredients. It does this by converting products into more stable granules.

Feed mill operatives are often at risk from poisonous chemicals such as selenium; as are agricultural workers as they breathe in dust when emptying feed bags into troughs.

Now Norfeed has won a £45,000 DTI-backed SMART award to adapt this ingredient-production process to the glass production industry to cut down on harmful dust emissions.