Blue River Dairy has formula for expansion

Blue River Dairy operations manager Rod Bott (left) and marketing manager Gareth Lyness celebrate at the recent Deloitte Fast 50 southern regional awards in Dunedin. Photo: Linda Robertson
Blue River Dairy operations manager Rod Bott (left) and marketing manager Gareth Lyness celebrate at the recent Deloitte Fast 50 southern regional awards in Dunedin. Photo: Linda Robertson
The plaudits keep coming for Southland's infant formula manufacturer Blue River Dairy.

The company, which produces specialist sheep, goat and cow infant formulas, is one of Southland's true export success stories.

Export growth into China over the past few years, and attendant growth in production and staffing requirements, has meant a four-fold increase in employees in as many years to its total of 137 staff.

Infant formula cans at Blue River Dairy plant in Invercargill. Photo: Supplied
Infant formula cans at Blue River Dairy plant in Invercargill. Photo: Supplied
Last month, Blue River was acknowledged as the fastest growing manufacturer and exporter in the lower South Island in the regional Fast50 rankings, also going on to win the ''workplace wellbeing'' award at the recent Southland Business Excellence Awards.

Next month it will compete for the national Deloitte Fast 50 title in Auckland which will sit nicely with the same trophy it won in 2018 on the strength of a nine-fold increase in export revenues over the previous two years.

Blue River was founded by Southland entrepreneur Keith Neylon in 2004, who grew the company into a successful sheep milk exporter and cheesemaker.

In 2014 a change in Chinese regulations affected Blue River's certification and its market access into China.

The following year the processing plant, retail shop and brand were sold to Blueriver Nutrition HK, owned by Chinese businessman Yuanrong Chen.

Mr Chen brought with him a capability to promote and distribute into the Chinese market, and an ambition to ensure a vertically integrated supply chain into the Chinese market.

By 2015 the company was exporting sheep milk infant formula.

With demand quickly outstripping New Zealand sheep milk supply, Mr Chen purchased Sardinia-based Alimenta, ensuring continued access to necessary nutritional ingredients.

Two years ago the company also extended its range into cow and goat-based formulas, recently going online with a new manufacturing plant adjacent to its current site.

Blue River's marketing and supply chain manager Gareth Lyness said the company expected to reach export volumes of 12million 800g cans of formula this year, across its three brands.

This is up from 400,000 cans two years ago.

He said about 75% of raw milk was sourced from New Zealand and the success of the company was built on the vision of ''creating products for a better life''.

As such, he said, Blue River would continue to innovate and develop more categories.

''Our success is as much about building the right culture and philosophies internally as it is building distribution markets.

''We have a diverse workforce and we've worked hard to build an inclusive culture.

''There are challenges, both locally and in international markets, so we'll continue to look at doing things we've never done before.''

brent.melville@odt.co.nz

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