POTATO specialist Albert Bartlett has set up a joint venture in the Middle East as it targets further export growth.

The family-owned Airdrie company is linking up with United Arab Emirates based conglomerate Al Dahra Agriculture.

The newly set up Al Dahra Bartlett, which will have its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, will distribute potatoes and potato based products around the Middle East and also into Africa as well. A deal has already been struck for 50,000 tonnes of potatoes to be supplied to food processing companies in Egypt.

Further agreements are expected to be sealed in the coming months.

Ronnie Bartlett, chairman of Albert Bartlett, said: "Al Dahra Bartlett brings together two like-minded businesses that share the same core values of adhering to sustainable business practices, service excellence and a passion for their products that engenders trust from customers and consumers alike."

The companies suggested this was the first venture of its kind in the region. Khadim Al Darei, vice chairman of Al Dahra Agriculture, said: "The joint venture with Albert Bartlett will strengthen the presence of Al Dahra's products in the European and Asian markets, bring new opportunities and maximum use of our land banks across four continents and two hemispheres."

Albert Bartlett, which employs around 750 people and handles in excess of 500,000 tonnes of fresh produce annually, already sells into Europe, North America and Australasia.

In 2012, it struck a deal for its Rooster brand of potatoes to be sold in Walmart stores across the US. Its most recent annual accounts show turnover jumped from £119 million to £165m and pre-tax profit from £7.73m to £9.56m in the 12 months to May 31 last year.

The Albert Bartlett business was set up in 1948 as a beetroot boiling company but is now into its third generation of family ownership. Its potato growing network stretches from Jersey to Inverness but it also deals in other fresh produce.

Al Dahra Agriculture, founded in 1995 and with an annual turnover of close to $1 billion, has interests across animal feed, dairy products, logistics and fresh produce including dates, apples, strawberries, cucumber and tomatoes. As well as its home market it operates in the US, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan and Namibia.

Separately Aldi now accounts for 4.3% of the UK grocery market after figures from Kantar Worldpanel showed year-on-year growth accelerated to a record 33.5% in the 12 weeks to March 2.

Lidl held on to its record 3.2% share, while Waitrose shrugged off pressure from the discounters with its highest ever market share of 5%.

Among the big four supermarkets, Sainsbury's was the only retailer to hold its market share year-on-year at 17%, while Tesco, Asda and Morrisons all recorded declines in share.