Belfast Telegraph

Whiff of success around co-op as cheese sales rise

By David Elliott

Northern Ireland's biggest dairy co-operative saw profits jump 25% last year, a performance it put down to sales of cheese and other consumer products.

United Dairy Farmers, which owns Dale Farm and United Feeds, made £5.2m in the year to the end of March on turnover of £437m, a jump of 9% on the previous year.

Chief Executive David Dobbin said the company's most successful year to date was shared by its 1,800 farmer owners who received a record average milk price of 27.26 pence a litre along with a bonus share payment.

He also said the coming year looked "more promising" for dairy farmers given "a global tightening in milk supply as a result of adverse weather in the US and north west Europe", a factor which is also expected to drive up feed costs for farmers. Having fallen sharply during the early summer months of this year, milk prices have recovered strongly in the last few weeks.

Over the past year the co-op made £134.6m worth of sales to consumers, up 16% on the year, with food ingredient sale climbing 60% to £52.4m. It cut its "commodity" sales, which includes bulk milk, by 40% because they offer lower returns.

But it's the company's Dale Farm Dromona cheese which it's most proud of.

"Having picked up a record 29 awards at international cheese shows in 2011, Dale Farm's Dromona cheese business saw significant volume growth of 61% - testament to the expertise of our staff, the quality of our farmer shareholders' milk and our capital investment programme," Mr Dobbin said.

"Whey protein products also proved a key area of development for the business with sales volumes up by 163% in the year and marking a shift from the production of milk powders as commodity markets continued to weaken. United Feeds also continued to perform well delivering a turnover of £28m, a 13% increase."

Meanwhile, the group continued to invest, expanding its fresh milk and cream business at Pennybridge in Ballymena and purchasing the Fane Valley packet butter business, which helped boost butter sales by 30%.