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Dale Farm profits hit £8m helped by cost cuts and innovation

By John Mulgrew

Dairy giant Dale Farm has said it has increased its profits to almost £8m due to cost-cutting and growth in innovation and new product lines.

Dale Farm chief executive Nick Whelan, was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as the co-operative saw its profits surge by 16% to £7.9m.

And he said there is no "immediate threat" to the future of hundreds of its EU workers as Downing Street announces an end to free movement into the UK in 2019.

The company said the "solid" results came in a "year of two halves" as it saw overall group turnover increase by 5.1% to £389m for the year ending March 2017.

Dale Farm Co-operative has its headquarters in Belfast and owns several brands, including Dale Farm, Mullins ice cream, Fivemiletown cheese and Dromona.

Mr Whelan said: "In my own words it's a solid performance. It's an unusual business model that we have - we are a co-operative, 13,000 farmers and they own the business.

"My goal is to pay them a leading price for the milk and since August we have been doing that.

"Given that we have had a relatively good performance on milk price, and that we have a relatively good performance on group operating profits, you would have to say it's solid."

He said the results were driven by a 'lean' cost-cutting programme, along with a growing protein milk and powder business.

"There is a real drive in innovation. Protein milk, high protein yoghurt, and part of business development in sports nutrition," he said.

"Second would be cost reduction. We have really had a structured group outlook at measuring cost. Our lean approach to mapping and measuring costs will be fundamental to us going forward.

"It's about individual processes. Things like, how do you do reports or accounts?"

But Mr Whelan said that doesn't mean reducing staff numbers.

"It's not about taking heads out. It's about improving productivity," he said, adding he was appreciative of the workforce adapting to the changes being put in place.

Speaking about Brexit, Mr Whelan said the firm is "well-placed" to deal with both the "opportunities and threats" of the UK's exit from the EU.

"Like all well-run businesses, we will continue to evaluate opportunities. It's all to play for," he said. "I would say Dale Farm is well-positioned to deal with the opportunities and threats of Brexit.

"Given the UK is the main market and there is a reasonable deficit of products into the UK, there are as many opportunities as there are threats. We are relatively positive. We are still in the realm of speculation."

And on what could happen to the firm's workforce, which includes 22% of staff from elsewhere in the EU, he said: "We are quite hopeful that those workers won't be in any way impinged and will be allowed to stay.

"We are doing a lot of talking behind the scenes, with trade organisations and politicians on both sides of the debate.

"We are still in the realm of speculation. But what we are not sensing here is an immediate threat for those workers."

He said Brexit could represent a "huge opportunity" for the dairy sector in Northern Ireland.

The company employs almost 1,300 staff across its sites, and is Northern Ireland's largest dairy business.

Belfast Telegraph

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