11 January 2002

Joint dairy venture set to save Welsh cheese factory

By Robert Harris

DAIRY Crest and First Milk have announced a new joint venture operation in Pembrokeshire to secure the future of the Haverfordwest cheese factory.

First Milk has bought a 20% stake in the firm for an undisclosed sum. Dairy Crest acquired Haverfordwest when it took over Unigates dairy and cheese business in July 2000.

The joint venture, known as Haverfordwest Cheese Ltd, will handle more than 210m litres of milk a year.

Drummond Hall, Dairy Crests executive managing director, said the move demonstrated the companys commitment to the plant and the region. "It secures cheese production and added-value product development at the site in the long term."

Mark Allen, managing director of Dairy Crests cheese business, said the joint venture also guaranteed the factorys milk supply and sales for First Milk.

The site produces a range of mild, medium and mature Cheddar, and plans are afoot to expand several quality brands, including Welsh labelled product. This would create a Wales equivalent of Davidstow, Dairy Crests Cornish cheese factory.

"We as a business believe it is important to develop a link between the farming community and the processor to develop the site," said Mr Allen. "If we are going to increase the added-value business, security of raw material is paramount."

First Milk chairman, John Duncan, said it was a "tremendously exciting" development for his 4000 members, who wanted a greater involvement in milk processing.

The co-op already processes about 10% of its milk through Aeron Valley Cheese, Scottish Milk Products and Scottish Milk Dairies. This latest move takes that figure to about 15%.

First Milk will take a 20% slice of Haverfordwest Cheese profits, and will have three directors on the board of eight.

"This is a significant development for our industry with co-operation being shown between the UKs largest dairy processor and the largest dairy farmers supply organisation," said Mr Duncan. Dairy Crest buys about 20% of UK milk production, while First Milk supplies about 18% of British milk to dairies.

Farmers in the region had feared Haverfordwest might share the same fate as several local liquid milk plants which Dairy Crest closed.

"This is excellent news for the 85 workers at the Haverfordwest factory and all the dairy farmers in west Wales who supply them with their milk," said Robert Voyle, chairman of the FUWs milk and dairy produce committee. &#42