Westland bets on butter with $40m Project Goldrush

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

The butter plant upgrade will increase Westland’s consumer butter production to 42,000 tonnes a year.  Pic: Westland
The butter plant upgrade will increase Westland’s consumer butter production to 42,000 tonnes a year. Pic: Westland

Related tags westland Yili Butter

New Zealand’s Westland Milk Products is embarking on a NZ$40m (US$27.9m) plan to double capacity of its consumer butter manufacturing facility.

The plan to increase production of premium grass-fed consumer butter brand Westgold has been five years in the making and is backed by new owner, global dairy giant Yili.

Westland resident director Shiqing Jian said Westland was transitioning from a supplier of mostly bulk commodities to play a greater role in the production of consumer goods in an expanding global butter and spread market.

“The investment highlights the important role Westland plays in Yili’s ongoing plans to supply international industrial and consumer markets,’’​ Jian said.

Annual global butter and spread sales are predicted to grow from a current estimated US$44tn to US$59tn by 2025 with the US, Russia and China regarded as the world’s largest importers of butter.

“New Zealand is one of the world’s major butter producers and industry and consumers widely recognize the value of dairy products of New Zealand origin,’’​ Jian said.

“Chinese consumers are also continuously looking to improve and diversify the application of butter products in baking, cooking and desserts. In future, demand for butter production and processing of Yili and Yili subsidiary brands will be considerable, and the upgraded Westland plant will play an important role.’’

Westland’s general manager of sales and marketing, Hamish Yates, said the company would connect more directly with domestic and global consumers concerned about the provenance of food.

“Westgold and Westland-produced butter is already sold in more than 20 countries around the world, including the US, Japan and China, but a large part of what we supply currently is bulk commodity butter,’’​ Yates said.

“Given the rainfall and geographical conditions that make the West Coast catchment so unique for grass-fed farming systems, and the way our farming families have farmed the area for generations, we knew we were sitting on something world-leading and incredibly valuable.”

Yates said the plan to increase global market penetration of Westgold butter began in 2017 but configuration of the old butter plant had kept retail butter production capacity capped.

“This investment now gives us the flexibility to pursue markets that will offer Westland the most value.”

Westland chief operating officer Richard Hickson said the butter plant upgrade would increase Westland’s consumer butter production to a total of 42,000 tonnes a year.

“We will be replacing the existing single churn that was commissioned in 1978 with two German-built churns. These will offer greater quality control and production efficiencies,’’​ Hickson said.

“New packaging lines will also allow us to package different formats and, at the back end, we’re upgrading palletizing to give us greater efficiency, speed and stacking combinations to suit the varying requirements of international markets. Remote stacking and racking capability will also be built into a cool store upgrade to allow for quick recovery of palletized goods for transport.’’

Site work, construction and installation is expected to begin shortly before Westland’s annual winter shutdown in May this year and run for three months.

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