Despite widespread industry scepticism that the venture is sustainable, Partners in Cheese claimed this week that the project was making good progress and that construction of the £40m, 450-million-litres-a-year factory would begin at the end of March.
MD Ronald Akkerman said the company was now trying to secure one major retailer and one major foodservice supplier as “anchor customers” to get the business off the ground. He claimed PiC had now signed up
a number of farmers to supply the company, each of which had paid a £1,000 fee. But he refused to say how many or how much milk they represented because of “contract sensitivities”. It is also understood that interested farmers fear that if they are revealed as future suppliers to PiC, their current buyers could terminate their contracts now and seek alternative sources of supply. PiC needs 100 farmers to sign up and pay the joining fee in order to trigger vital grants from local bodies Rural Regeneration Cumbria and Distinctly Cumbria.
Aside from grant funding, around £16m of equity will be required to get the project up and running, some of which will be provided through loans secured by a farmer co-operative that will be called West Lakes Cheese Company.
The balance will be provided by the management team and other investors, said Akkerman.
He added: “The initial aim is to provide our customers with a dedicated supply of Cheddar from a single source and to contract over an agreed period on both price and volumes.”