New €17m UHT milk plant opened
The second major UHT milk processing plant to be built in the Border area in recent years was officially opened by Glanbia in Monaghan last week.
The €17m development in the county council-owned Lough Egish Food Park has the capacity to process up to 100 million litres of milk annually, making it one of the largest liquid milk processing plants in the country.
Ireland currently processes 570 million of milk into cartons - what is known as the liquid milk trade.
The vast majority of this is sold as fresh chilled milk. However, Glanbia is the second company after Lakeland Dairies to invest heavily in a UHT facility targeting product at far flung locations from South Africa to China.
"We can transport UHT milk as cheaply to China as chilled milk within Ireland," commented Glanbia's consumer foods CEO, Colin Gordon. "Many of the container ships working between China and Europe are returning to China empty, so we are able to take advantage of arbitrage on that."
Mr Gordon said that secret technology would allow the company to produce milk that will have a three month longer shelf life than any of its main competitors.
"We have put a lot of R&D into developing cartons that can withstand heat of up to 50C, and a product that through direct and indirect heating lasts for up to 12 months," said Mr Gordon.
With shipping often taking up to eight weeks to ports in China, followed by another four weeks getting through customs, the extra shelf life of the product builds valuable flexibility into the product for Glanbia.
The plant currently employs 20 but Mr Gordon expects up to 40 people to work there when the plant is at full capacity. He added that the factory could be easily scaled up to double its existing capacity if demand warranted it.
"We have a fresher product than most, with some processors only collecting milk once a week from farms. We collect and process every day, which results in a unique product. This is a very proud day for us, and we've a great sense of achievement from what we've created here," said Mr Gordon. Mr Gordon said they chose Monaghan due to the existing infrastructure on the site, the BMW regional grants, the experienced workforce in the locality, and the year-round supply of milk in the region.
However, he was adamant that the facility would not be sourcing milk from north of the Border.
"It creates too many certification issues when you have mixed source product," said Mr Gordon.
China is likely to be the biggest market for the product, with brands such as Avonmore, Snowcream, and Premier already present on Chinese supermarket shelves.
The Glanbia boss was also clear that the company was not interested in starting manufacturing 'jiggers' or the sachets that Lakeland's UHT plant specialises in.
Glanbia has consolidated its liquid milk operations into just two plants at Ballitore and Drogheda.
A recent Rabobank report predicted the strongest growth opportunities in the dairy sector over the coming decades would be in fresh products aimed at the world's growing middle-class.
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