First Milk to spend £17M on site expansion

By Freddie Dawson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cheese

First Milk is investing to meet increased demand for brands such as Lake District, which now accounts for sales of £70M
First Milk is investing to meet increased demand for brands such as Lake District, which now accounts for sales of £70M
Dairy cooperative First Milk is to invest £17M in the expansion at its Maelor creamery in Wrexham, North Wales.

The project will include a new cold storage and maturation area with the potential to house 20,000 pallets for First Milk’s branded cheeses.

It will also include a modern cheese cutting and packaging facility that will better enable First Milk to respond to growth in demand for its branded cheeses, a spokeswoman told The firm manufactures one in four packs of cheddar in the UK, she claimed.

“The redevelopment of our Maelor site will allow us to improve efficiencies at the site as well as increase the production capabilities,”​ she said.

Cutting food miles

Currently First Milk sends its cheese to be matured at cold storage and logistics firm, Grocontinental’s Whitchurch site – about 12 miles away from its creamery.

“Therefore having the maturation store on the same site as the cheese packing facility will naturally increase our efficiencies,”​ the spokeswoman added.

New technology at the slicing and packing facility will also help to improve efficiency.

The facility will have 11 production lines and include automated robots for packaging.

Improvements were needed to meet increasing demand for cheeses such as Lake District cheddar, which has grown to become a £70M brand since its launch a few years ago, said the spokeswoman.

The cheese category had grown at a rate of 6.4% year–on–year and is now worth £2.6bn, according to figures from Kantar Worldpanel.

“Redevelopment to create a cheese packing and storage centre of excellence is very much in line with our position as the UK’s cheddar specialist,”​ the spokeswoman added.

Major local impact

The Maelor Creamery packs more than 30,000t of cheese and contributes £8M to the local economy, according to First Milk.

Because of the firm’s growth, the only alternative to expansion would have been to relocate the facility – which the firm was reluctant to do because of added costs.

Wrexham Council acknowledged that First Milk was an important company in the area – already employing around 220 people – and the proposal would help safeguard existing jobs. So it granted planning permission for the construction on March 5.

“The loss of employment would have had a major impact locally,”​ a council spokesman said.

The new facilities will create about three jobs at the site in order to manage the maturation and storage centre operations. Construction will be undertaken in partnership with Grocontinental.

First Milk is the largest dairy farmer-owned business in the UK. It has about 1,800 farms and handles 1.5bn litres of milk every year. Of that total, 44% was made into cheese at the firm’s four creameries located in Wales, Cumbria and Scotland.

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