SCOTTISH CHEESE maker McLellands has been bought up by Lactalis, the French family-owned cheese giant.

The McLellands deal carried a pricetag in excess of £150m, analysts say, and it spells the end of the Irvine family‘s ownership of the firm.

Lactalis has operations in 140 countries, but this is its first move into the British market.

It was lured by McLellands‘ booming ‘Seriously Strong‘ cheddar brand, and a host of smaller award-winning brands.

The Scottish firm had sales of £156m in 2004, up from £28m eight years ago. Operating profits were £11.5m in the 12 months to April 30.

It is dwarfed by its new owner, which boasted turnover of €5.35bn (£3.69bn) in 2003, and collected 6.9bn litres of raw milk for its cheese lines.

Andy Smith, managing director of Lactalis UK, was keen to stress that Scottish and Welsh dairy farmers would not lose out in the deal.

“All the production facilities operated by McLellands will continue to require milk at current volumes or greater, and we have no plans to alter our milk sourcing arrangements.

“Lactalis UK has built a strong reputation for professionalism in the marketing of great cheese brands, and the acquisition of McLellands extends the range of cheeses we can offer our customers in the retail and food service sectors.”

McLellands‘ joint MDs, Alistair and Douglas Irvine, said that existing suppliers would benefit from Lactalis‘ global reach.

“It is clear that there is now very significant potential for famous cheeses sold by McLellands in the UK to find their way onto cheese boards around the world,” they said.

A spokesman for First Milk, the dairy co-op involved in a joint venture on some of the McLelland brands, was singing from the same hymn sheet.

He said that it was good news for members, who currently supply McLellands with 330m litres of raw milk each year.