Dairy firm LacPatrick's British trade up as Brexit looms
A leading Northern Ireland dairy firm has seen its trade with Britain grow by almost a third as companies there reposition for Brexit.
LacPatrick has just invested £30m in new facilities at its plant in Artigarvan, County Tyrone.
It said big name food firms based in Britain had begun to source ingredients from it.
Businesses involved in the manufacture of chocolate, biscuits and sauces have all been in touch.
All are large consumers of dairy powder ingredients.
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Previously, they would have imported them from EU countries including the Republic of Ireland.
LacPatrick chief executive Gabriel D'Arcy said a bid to manage risk around tariffs post-Brexit was prompting UK firms to look at sourcing dairy produce from UK manufacturers.
LacPatrick has traditionally sent milk powder from its Artigarvan plant to markets in west Africa and the Middle East.
Thatis currently done under EU trade agreements with those countries.
Mr D'Arcy acknowledged there was a risk that his firm could lose access to those markets if the agreements could not be replicated by the UK after Brexit.
But he said he hoped that any transitional arrangements agreed with the EU would include trade deals.
In any event, he said, he was confident that there was a ready market in Great Britain for Northern Ireland dairy products.
"If it comes to it, we have an outlet for every single molecule of the milk we produce and process within the GB and UK markets," he said.
LacPatrick collects 500 million litres of milk in Northern Ireland a year.
The £30m investment in new drying facilities at Artigarvan means it can now process all of that locally without the need to send NI milk to its plants across the border for treatment.
That reduces concerns around tariffs and other non tariff barriers post brexit.
The company says it is the biggest investment by a dairy company on a single site in a generation.
In coming days they're inviting the 700 farmers who supply them and some of their international customers to tour the plant, which employs 70 staff.
The new equipment will allow it to produce new products such as long life ingredients for vending machines in Japan and a "just add water" powder which is used to make instant liquid milk and is popular in the Middle East.