LacPatrick Dairy Co-Operative Celebrates Surge in Dried Milk Sales

Column by Michele Shirlow for Farm Week (21 September)

There was some very significant news last week for Northern Ireland food and drink companies from Gabriel D’Arcy, the chief executive of LacPatrick dairy co-operative at a briefing about the company’s £30 million high-tech milk powder drier complex at Artigarvan in Tyrone.

Mr D’Arcy revealed that the co-operative, formed in July 2015 by the merger of Town of Monaghan and Ballyrashane co-operative in Coleraine, has seen a surge in business –  around 25 per cent – in Britain in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Many food manufacturers there, he indicated, have been taking steps to realign their supply chains especially if there’s to be a hard Brexit and the imposition of tariffs and other bureaucratic obstacles on the import of the powders and other ingredients from established suppliers in other parts of Europe.

Mr D’Arcy is the latest business leader to warn that a complete withdrawal from the EU, including the Single Market and Customs Union, would have adverse consequences particularly for Northern Ireland.

The LacPatrick experience also demonstrates that there are significant opportunities in Britain for our companies arising from the concerns developing among manufacturers there over both short and long term security in the supply of ingredients as well as other products and services they require.

There’s also been a similar warning from Mike Coupe, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, that Brexit could lead to extensive supply chain disruption from possible customs controls that’s “not fully recognised” by the UK government. He added that anything disrupting established food supply chains, currently governed by EU customs arrangements, would be “detrimental”.

Anything that encumbered trade has two effects, it adding cost, and impacting freshness. He presented a grim picture o fresh food left rotting at the British border if strict customs controls for EU goods are put in place after a hard Brexit.

Could Northern Ireland suppliers step up to the plate and plug any developing supply gap?  I believe that we could substantially increase the products we supply to manufacturers, retailers and consumers there.

As our success in national awards such as Great Taste demonstrates, Northern Ireland has the potential to do so. We’ve a vast range of quality food and drink that’s outstandingly tasty, wholesome, nutritious offering great value for money. And the products are exceptionally close to the market. We can supply customers there in a matter of hours.

We clearly need, therefore, to be alive to these opportunities, which demands a much greater engagement with the food and drink industry and consumers in Britain, a key policy thrust for Food NI in our well-received Taste the Greatness action strategic action plan.

We really do need to be involved to a much greater extent in discussions in Britain.  Other regions are actively involved. Scotland, for example, is demanding that the government must urgently set out how it will protect funding for its food and drink, especially fish and seafood, post-Brexit or risk undermining Scotland’s food and drink success story.

What about Northern Ireland?