An improved customer and product mix coupled with greater efficiencies have put Milk Link on course to "drive hard" in the year ahead, chief executive Neil Kennedy has claimed.

The farmer-owned dairy co-operative this week announced pre-tax profits up from £500,000 last year to £10.6m in the year to 3 April on turnover up £3m to £550m.

While trading conditions, particularly in the first half of the financial year, had been tough, the group's financial performance had been strong, said Neil Kennedy.

"This reflected the strengthening of our customer and product mix; our continued emphasis on driving our costs and improving efficiencies across the business; and our rigorous approach to cash and stock management."

A new contract to pack and supply a number of cheeses to Waitrose began in November, and efficiencies had been achieved by the closure of its Kirkcudbright facility in May last year.

Meanwhile, sales of Tickler Cheddar soared 56% over the year, sales of its long-life milk brand Moo increased by 18% and Flora Pro-activ milk, which it makes under licence, rose 15%.

Although net debt had increased £4.8m to £80.9m, the figure took into account its £25.6m spend on Llandyrnog Creamery.

Milk Link would step up its support for Tickler in the year ahead and it would throw its weight behind lighter variants, said Kennedy. "Our objective over the next year is to harness our increasing financial strength and strategic flexibility to further grow and develop."

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