New £7m Dale Farm plant will boost its status as a big cheese
Dairy giant Dale Farm has unveiled a £7m cheese-packing facility in Co Tyrone which it said would help boost its sales, as well as bringing 60 new jobs.
The business, which is part of the co-operative United Dairy Farmers, also revealed that it had increased the price paid to its farmers by 1.5p - around 8% - in July.
Outgoing chief executive David Dobbin said it was now paying 18.7p per litre, compared to the average of 17p.
He said the technology at the new plant at Dunmanbridge in Cookstown would allow it to process more cheese in portion packs, including its well-known Dromona brand.
The company has been enjoying increasing sales in the UK - including the production of own-label cheese for supermarkets including Aldi and Sainsbury's.
Its cheese sales in the UK more than doubled last year, Mr Dobbin said - and were up 40% in the most recent financial year.
Invest NI has provided just under £500,00 towards the jobs and new cheese-packing facility.
Mr Dobbin, who retires this month to be replaced by former Glanbia director Nick Whelan, said the growth of its sales in the UK meant that it was in a good position following the vote to leave the EU.
He said that if a trade deal with the EU was unfavourable to imports of dairy products, Dale Farm would be in a strong position to increase domestic sales of its products.
"When we look around, in relative terms we are in the best position in Britain and Ireland to face the uncertainties."
The company also sends its cheeses around Europe, including to Germany, Holland, France, Portugal, Spain and Poland.
And Mr Whelan said that he was feeling confident about the future of the business.
He explained that changes in previously strong export markets - including a fall in demand from China and a ban on imports into Russia - had resulted in a shift in strategy. "We've adjusted our model, though the Chinese situation is improving," Mr Whelan added.
"But Russia has indicated its ban will continue into mid-2017 and onwards, so we have more or less discounted Russia from our planning."
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton opened the facility yesterday and also welcomed the investment.
"Ultimately, this investment will enhance the company's competitiveness in global markets, enabling it to compete for national and international contracts," he said.
Last year saw tough times for the industry, with many farmers protesting over falling prices.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, farmers here are receiving around 17.55p per litre, compared to a recent high in 2013 of 34.7p.
United Dairy Farmers recently announced a quadrupling in pre-tax profits to £6.8m during 2015.
Mr Whelan's former employer Glanbia yesterday announced half-year profits of €176.5m (£153m).