A Northern Ireland creamery is hoping to spread its butter across Europe with a £6 million expansion plan.
Ballyrashane Creamery in Co Londonderry has developed a speciality butter aimed at markets in France and Germany. The investment will see the construction of a new butter processing plant.
The Executive's business support agency, Invest Northern Ireland, has offered the creamery almost £1.4 million of assistance towards the project, including research and development support part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
Ballyrashane is one of the oldest farmers' co-operatives in Ireland.
Chief executive Nigel Kemps said: "This very substantial investment for the business will improve efficiency, increase productivity, reduce costs and enhance profitability. It will increase our competitiveness particularly in Britain, the Republic of Ireland and other European markets. We have long-established business partnerships with both a major European and a local distributor to support this process.
"The investment being made to modernise our processing operations will also position the company at the leading-edge of technology and will support our commitment to become a market leader in the development and marketing of innovative, added value butter for sale outside Northern Ireland.
"Underpinning this strategy is a commitment to offer dairy farmers in the region, including over 80 dairy farmers who currently supply our milk, better prices in both the short and long term for the high quality milk they supply to the co-operative. Over the past year, we've taken steps to ensure our own supply of milk ahead of the planned removal of EU milk quotas in 2015. The expansion in processing operations is also benefiting the wider supply chain."
Stormont Economy minister Arlene Foster welcomed the expansion on a visit to the creamery.
"This is an important and strategic investment by an enterprising and innovation-led creamery that will enable it to secure new business outside Northern Ireland," she said. "The creamery, now a major manufacturing employer in the North West with 150 staff, is investing to enable it to exploit opportunities for innovative butter products in target European markets that will command higher prices than commodity butter and therefore offer better returns for its milk suppliers.
"In addition to supporting export sales, Ballyrashane's overall competitiveness will be enhanced by measures being implemented to increase efficiency and to reduce costs. The performance of this enterprising business is also benefiting from the decision to invest in a state-of-the-art anaerobic digester which converts dairy waste into energy for use within the factory."