Lakeland Dairies invests £8m on new logistics centre in Co Down
Cavan-based dairy co-op Lakeland Dairies has spent £8m developing a new global logistics centre in Co Down.
Lakeland Dairies is expanding its existing location in Newtownards, home to Pritchitts dairy food service, which it acquired in 2003.
The plant currently employs more than 200 people and the new development is completely automated.
It produces more than 700 million individual product units each year, including ice cream mixes, UHT milk, cappuccino toppings and ice cream powder.
Lakeland is the largest dairy UHT manufacturer producer in the UK and Ireland for food service. At the launch of the new centre yesterday, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell described it as "among the most technically advanced global export facilities in Europe".
Chief executive Michael Hanley said the new development was in direct response to rising demand. "Year on year, over the past 12 years we've grown the business 300% and we needed extra storage," he said.
"This new facility has 14,000 pallet spaces and we intend to pack that out.
"We can now handle pallets at one-third of the cost, and it gives us total control of our product. Everything is under one roof so that means dates, storage, it's all in safe hands.
"It also gives us credibility with our customers that we are in this for the long haul."
Lakeland Dairies exports to 77 countries worldwide. The company already collects milk from 500 farmers in Northern Ireland, but says it is always on the lookout for extra suppliers.
The new plant opened as tensions among farmers increase over the low price of milk and other farm products. Farmers are holding a demonstration at Stormont tomorrow.
In July, Lakeland Dairies paid farmers up to 18.55p per litre of milk, but that is almost half the price on the same time last year, when a litre fetched 33p.
"We are a co-op, and we pay our farmers as much as we can," Mr Hanley said.
"We've provided a strong competitive price in Northern Ireland for the last 20 years. But the next five or six months will be challenging as the dairy markets have experienced a downturn, and there's a surplus in supply across the world.
"But things are going in the right direction. At the last New Zealand auction the price of milk was up 10-11%, and it's risen 25% in the last two weeks, so that's positive, but even at those prices it's still below the current EU prices."
The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) this week met the Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan for crunch talks. UFU president Ian Marshall said no final decisions had been reached.
"They indicated that a special case for Northern Ireland would be difficult as we are a region within a member state, but they did state that potentially this was something that should be raised within the UK," said Mr Marshall. Tomorrow's demonstration comes ahead of a meeting of EU farm ministers in Brussels on Monday.