Three years after exporting its first trial batch of fresh milk to China, Norco dairy co-operative is now testing the waters there with its ice cream.
Norco’s successful ice cream business helped deliver a $2 million profit and a record average milk price of 58 cents a litre to its suppliers for the last financial year.
The co-operative has contracts with major supermarkets Woolworths, Coles and Aldi to manufacture their ice cream.
It unveiled its profit for the 2015/16 financial year to its members at its annual general meeting in Coffs Harbour this week.
Norco chairman Greg McNamara said the demand for their ice cream, produced at its Lismore factory is growing.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from export customers around ice cream, and we’re doing more work for the retail trades in Australia,
“We continue to get the retailers in Australia doing their super premium house brand products that are certainly growing in volume and giving us a lot of support in our ice cream business.”
Mr McNamara said the co-operative will invest $13 million in capital projects, including improving infrastructure to make more ice cream, this financial year.
The co-op had initially hoped to eventually export more than 20 million litres of fresh milk to China per year, but the overall volume remains well under that at 35,000 litres a month.
“It’s not a lot of milk but that volume has a level of consistency around it now and we’re trying to push it out into more cities at the moment,” he said.
“The thought process was a number of years ago that this was going to take off like a rocket, it took off and we’ve found the volumes have steadied and we’re still working on it.
“We’ve certainly found it an interesting market to work in, we’ve learnt a lot but it certainly hasn’t gone where we anticipated two years ago.”
The dairy farmer said the co-operative has had to reassess the “difficult” China market and how they tackle it.
“It’s certainly much more around ice cream now,” he said.
“We will continue with fresh milk and we’re working with customers to work out who’s buying the product, are the consistent purchasers and trying to find that right channel to market in the China market.
“We’ve certainly been one of the fortunate companies that have been recognised that we have a very high quality product and that product actually ends up in good condition it the Chinese market, so that’s good news for us but how do we get those Chinese consumers to purchase it on a regular basis continues to still challenge us.”
Norco already exports its ice cream to Japan.