DAIRY products and ingredients maker Carbery says it will maintain uninterrupted production in West Cork and open a €78m mozzarella production line this year.
Carbery offered an upbeat forecast as it published 2019 results showing a 2.5pc growth in turnover to €434m but an 11pc drop in net profits to €17.4m, citing higher costs.
Net debt rose by 57pc to €30.1m with loans from the European Investment Bank.
Higher spending includes the upcoming mozzarella line at Carbery's factory in Ballineen, Co Cork, which already produces a quarter of all Irish-made cheese, including its flagship Dubliner brand.
Mozzarella production was due to begin in September but may be delayed to later this year because of restrictions on overseas travel. Ballineen, the largest cheese-making facility in the State, already makes cheddar, red Leicester and reduced-fat cheese.
"Carbery is focused on our business continuity plans and managing the situation so we can maintain uninterrupted production across our businesses throughout this crisis," said CEO Jason Hawkins, pictured below.
"Our cheese diversification project has been slightly delayed but is almost complete," he said.
"Our plant was proceeding on time until the impact of Covid-19," he said, noting that the virus threat means essential "commissioning engineers from overseas" currently cannot travel to Ireland.
"Once the travel restrictions have been lifted, we expect only a short period of time to complete final testing and commence operations."
Carbery has about 750 employees in 10 locations - and has expanded its payroll during the crisis.
"We haven't had to lay off or put any staff on Government leave," Mr Hawkins said.
"We have been hiring additional staff to make sure key operator positions are covered within our production facility, in case of any positive tests of Covid-19."
The firm reported 2019 growth in sales in all three of its units: dairy, nutrition and taste.
It said milk processing volumes at Ballineen last year reached 567 million litres, 42pc more than in 2015, when milk quotas were abolished. The milk is provided by the four West Cork dairy co-ops at Bandon, Barryroe, Drinagh and Lisavaird that jointly own Carbery. Those co-ops, in turn, are owned by more than 12,000 farmers.
"As we look forward to future supply growth, we believe that our current capital investment will allow us to continue to support our farmer shareholders' growth through 2030, without significant additional capacity investment," Carbery said in its annual report.
Its nutrition unit last year expanded in Asia by opening a commercial base in Shanghai.
Its US-headquartered taste division, Synergy, opened a new commercial and technical centre in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Synergy launched a new 'Dairy Taste' portfolio for ingredients for the Americas market.
It also physically expanded its HQ in the town of Wauconda, north of Chicago, by 38,000 sq ft "to accommodate future business growth".