Westland protein plant adds value to growing milk supply

October 2006
In 2001, Westland Milk Products 335 dairy farmer shareholders voted unanimously to reject offers of a merger with industry giant Fonterra. Since then, the 60-year-old cooperative has rewarded shareholders with high payouts and strong growth.

In the past decade, the total West Coast dairy herd has increased by almost 75%, both through expansion of existing herds and farm conversions.

Now Westland Milk has 390 suppliers, from Franz Josef Glacier in the south to Karamea in the North a 420 kilometre catchment.

For 15 years, Westland Milk has sustained eight percent annual growth in supply, with a staggering 50% growth since 2001. This year the companys turnover will be about $250 million.

The company produces and markets a wide range of nutritional and food and beverage products including milk powders, milk fat and milk protein products.

Deputy CEO, Hugh Little, has spent his entire working life at Westland Milk and is credited by vice chairman Mike Havill as the main cog in whats been a series of significant developments.

The production season is from the beginning of August through to the end of May/early June.

The protein plant

On August 21, Westland Milks $73 million protein plant became fully operational, growing the cooperatives daily processing capacity from 2.6 million litres of milk to 3.9 million litres.

Building of the protein facility has been a two-stage process, involving three years of planning and construction.

Stage one, commissioned in September last year, produces casein products (mineral acid, lactic acid and rennet casein). Stage two, just completed, manufactures caseinates, hydrolysates and high-protein milk powders.

The plant has employed 30 new staff, bringing the number of Westland Milk workers to 250 on site, plus 25 in Christchurch responsible for marketing, documentation and storage.

Protein products

There are a variety of types of casein an amino acid-rich milk protein commonly used in the food industry each with its own use.

Edible acid casein is highly nutritious yet low in fat and cholesterol. It is an ingredient in coffee whiteners, infant formulas, processed cheese, and some pharmaceutical products.

Technical acid caseins have good binding properties and are used for the manufacture of paper coatings, adhesives, paints, concrete, textile fabrics, and cosmetics.

Hydrolysed casein has been broken down partially or completely to its constituent amino acids and is often used in canned fish.

Lactic casein is used in pharmaceutical products, food ingredients, and as a binding agent in industrial products such as paint, glue, and paper.

Rennet casein has good dye binding ability and excellent extrusion properties. It is used in plastics such as buttons, beads, buckles, knitting needles and costume jewellery.

The caseinates to be manufactured at Westland Milk are casein salts, made by dissolving acid casein in a suitable alkali and drying it to make a water-soluble product. Caseinates are used in foods such as baked goods, cottage cheese, powdered diet supplements, nutritional beverages, ice cream, coffee whiteners and yoghurt.

The protein products are packed in 25kg bags and freighted to the companys storage facility in Christchurch by a train which stops at the plant six days a week for nine and a half months of the year.

Westland Milk has produced high quality milk powders and butter for many years, and is mindful of continuing to look after existing customers for these products.

Manufacturing standards

Westland Dairy products are regularly sampled and tested for chemical, sensory and microbial parameters in an ISO 17025 certified laboratory. Precautions are taken to ensure that product quality is maintained during storage and shipment. Each package is identified, and can be traced back to Westland.

The factory operates under a Risk Management Programme approved by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and is ISO-certified.

The markets

Westland Milk Products already has a very good customer base which is continuing to grow. The aim is to tailor-make products to meet customer demand.

Off shore prospects for the protein products are very good, says Little, with especially strong demand from Asian markets.

Why build the protein plant?

The protein plant was built as a way of adding value to Westland Dairys rapidly growing supply.

The expansion will allow us to take on a broader range of products and provide much needed peak capacity, says Little. Part of our strategy going forward is that we need to move more of our milk solids into the added value area.

The advantages of being a stand-alone company

Its small size relative to Fonterra means Westland Milk can be super-responsive to customer demand.

We have built maximum flexibility into our plant to enable us to alter product mix in response to demand, says Little.

For customers, it is straight-forward dealing with one company on one site to purchase a wide range of products. They and suppliers enjoy direct and personal relationships with staff.