Innovation and investment a key priority at Milk Link

ONE of the first of 75 potential new products currently under development at Milk Link’s new Innovation Centre could pay for the £1million-plus facility on its own - within 12 months.

That was the claim made by the co-op this week when shadow agriculture Minister Jim Paice officially opened the centre, which is part of the ‘flagship’ Taw Valley creamery in Devon.

The ex-Glanbia site was acquired six years ago on a joint venture basis, Milk Link eventually buying out Glanbia’s 25 per cent share at the end of 2006.

Since then, Milk Link has invested some £6million in the site, and, like all other investments the co-op has made in production facilities, was budgeted on a 24-month payback.

The board decided the product development centre would have to repay its investment in 12 months.

The new product which could, on its own, prove the economics of the product development area, is a lighter cheese which has 30 per cent less fat than standard cheddar. It will have supermarket listings in November.

A key criteria in its development was that taste and texture should not be compromised. It is part of the co-op’s planned portfolio in its quest to gain market leadership in ‘healthier’ cheese.

While other products will contribute to payback, Milk Link stressed the careful scrutiny it puts on any capital expenditure request before approval.

Matt Richards, head of innovation, said trying to develop products during normal production carried too high a risk, and ‘buying in’ third party development expertise was no longer acceptable to Milk Link, which wanted to bring the work in-house using its own staff.

Chief executive Neil Kennedy said the new facility was just one example of his business’ reaction to the current ‘challenging climate’ in UK dairy - investment.

Product development

Shadow Minister Jim Paice said in-house product development was the answer to the problems the industry had faced over the last few years.

It was what had been sadly lacking during the Milk Marketing Board years, while our competitors in Europe had been forging ahead with just such innovation.

He saw no reason why practically all dairy products consumed in the UK should not eventually be produced from UK milk. “This country should be the leading dairy country in the EU,” he said.

Other new products include a spreadable version of Milk Link’s successful Tickler extra-mature cheddar, selling into a category currently dominated by ‘smooth’ products.

The Innovation Centre has also delivered a new addition to Milk Link’s Moo ESL flavoured milk range - Chocolate Creaminess. It is a creamy and smooth-tasting product, but has just 1 per cent fat.

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