First Milk chairman upbeat about future

First Milk is “signing up” at least 10m litres of milk a week and in the past two months has gained 140m litres from new members, chairman Bill Mustoe told the annual conference.

“We used to be fighting every week to hang on to members. Now things are very different and at the Dairy Event new producers were queuing up to sign up to our international, membership or milk supply contracts.

“And the Lake District Cheese Company brand is now worth almost £60m in annual retail sales because a pack is being sold every three seconds of every day.

“We’ve grown our branded cheese business from a point four years ago when the Lake District brand and the Pembrokeshire brands didn’t exist to a stage where they’re the fourth and ninth best-selling cheese brands in Britain respectively,” said Mr Mustoe.

He told producers over the last year First Milk had moved its milk price more than any other dairy company in Britain, paid out two returns on members’ investment and planned to continue this payout in the future.

Listing a series of First Milk partnerships, including Nestle and dairy product suppliers Eilers and Wheeler, Mr Mustoe said the company’s latest association with “up-and-coming” New Zealand company Fonterra would primarily provide a route to the whey protein market in Europe.

“Most importantly for us, it creates a new profit stream. Fonterra shares our co-op ethos, thinking about how can they increase returns for farmers.”

But Mr Mustoe made a blistering attack on First Milk’s critics:” Lots of people are waiting for us to fail. They waste a lot of time talking us down.

“There were even rumours that we’d fallen out with Eilers & Wheeler and that they couldn’t find a customer for our milk powder. It was total rubbish.

“We are criticised by some for being weak sellers and by others for being arrogant and that we’re strong-arming the retailers by moving into export markets. I just wish they’d make their mind up,” said Mr Mustoe.

Read more news from the First Milk AGM here.