Valuable infant formula and on-trend nutritional products will be key growth targets for Lakeland Dairies as it aims to hit annual revenues of more than €1bn by 2021.
The north-western based dairy co-op recorded annual revenues last year of €769.8m, a 28pc rise from €601m in 2016. This yielded an operating profit of €16.8m, compared to €7.2m in 2016.
It came on the back of strong demand for dairy ingredients, with butter's new 'healthy fat' image sending prices soaring up to €7,000 a tonne last year.
Lakeland group CEO Michael Hanley said they were targeting the "value added markets" with a third milk-drying plant opening at Bailieboro, Co Cavan, following an investment of €40m.
He said this had brought them greater "efficiencies" and they intended to continue to work in the infant formula area as partners of three of the top four producers - Danone, Abbott and Nestle.
"We have capacity now to handle the extra growth that our farmers are going to give us now over the next three to four years," he said, with the milk pool expected to grow by around 4-5pc over the coming years.
Lakeland is witnessing the greatest growth potential out of the 80 customer countries in Asia, Malaysia, Thailand and China.
"We have routes to market in those 80 countries, we have the hard part done. We have relationships with partners, distributors or producers in those countries," he said. "We'll be looking at Asia and China in particular," he said, adding they were seeing growth there year-on-year across the business.
Over the year their milk pool soared to 1.2 billion litres due to a full year's production from their Northern Ireland acquisition Fane Valley. The larger number of suppliers at 2,500 across 15 counties means they could also remove milk collection charges which cost farmers around €5m a year.
Mr Hanley said the Fane Valley acquisition gave them a massive "safety net", as half their milk pool now comes from each side of the Border and it gives them the opportunity to "mix and match" products if needed. He said the longer Brexit transition period if agreed would give them time to "readjust" packaging and other business items.
Its food ingredients revenues increased by 32pc to €468.4m in 2017, up from €353.6m in 2016. The Bailieboro site produced record volumes of over 200,000 tonnes of milk powders and butter products for worldwide export during the year.