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Cheese offering a profitable future for farmers, says Dairy Crest boss

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 20, 2013

By Peter Hall, Farming Editor

markallen

Mark Allen

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Say cheese – because that's where there are massive opportunities for farmers to capitalise on what they have in their fields and dairy parlours.

The advice comes from Mark Allen, chief executive of Dairy Crest, one of the nation's largest milk processors.

He believes farming in general faces new beginnings, following vastly increased demand from the public about the provenance of the food they buy, as a direct result of the "horsegate" scandal of last winter.

So far as the dairy sector was concerned, Mr Allen, whose business empire includes the giant creamery at Davidstow, in North Cornwall, said that while farmers faced ongoing challenges, they should be optimistic about the future.

"They should feel confident and ambitious," he said. "The sector sits on a huge opportunity from the consumer demand for shorter supply chains and the demand to know more about where their food comes from. I think farmers, not just dairy but right across the industry, should treat that as a real opportunity."

Dairy Crest, which takes milk from 1,300 farmers, produces Cathedral City cheese at Davidstow Creamery, as well as the popular, mature, Davidstow Cheddar. It also supplies fresh milk to various supermarket outlets, Country Life butter and Frijj, the flavoured milk brand.

But Mr Allen believes the largest opening for the company remains in the cheese sector.

"There is 90,000 tonnes of cheese imported into the UK every year – and we see a real opportunity for us to displace some of that," he said.

Cathedral City is now the nation's largest branded cheese, using milk from Westcountry farmers and worth £250 million a year in sales, an example for other brands to take on more of the market, particularly from imports.

But the company's latest, well-publicised, plan is to make baby food, using whey powder, a spin-off from the manufacture of cheese, eventually bringing in a marketing partner.

Mr Allen's statement was praised by the National Farmers' Union (NFU), who said his ambition to build demand for British-produced food such as cheese was why the NFU had launched its Back British Farming campaign.

Ian Johnson, NFU spokesman in the South West, said: "At the end of the day, the only way for processors to be profitable is to cherish and sustain their supply base rather than indulging in a short-term, fast-buck approach which will ultimately be as bad for them as it is for farmers. It is great Mr Allen is so positive, and we admire his aspirations for Dairy Crest, because the better it does the more it should be able to share with its producers – making it a success story for everybody and giving consumers what they tell us they want, British food produced on British farms."

Whitehall jobs 'not given to affect policy'

Hundreds of people turned up to a food festival in a Cornish town – part of a programme designed to take advantage of its status as a Portas Pilot Town.

Liskeard received £100,000 of Government money last year to rejuvenate its flagging high street.

And despite pouring rain on Saturday, hundreds of people attended its Liskeard Loves Food festival – with some even playing a game of table tennis in the street in the downpour in an act of street entertainment among the festivities.

The event showcased the produce of food retailers and the large range of independent shops in the town.

Although the rain led to some cancellations, those that did attend recorded some very good figures. There were a variety of food stalls, as well as was entertainment including face painting and live music.

Claire Eason-Bassett, the managing director of Event Cornwall, which supported Liskeard Town Team in putting on the event, said it had been thoroughly successful. She added: “What was amazing was that, despite the wet weather, people came to see what Liskeard has to offer. The traders had a really good day.”

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