Woodlands Park Dairy boss Richard Murray came to the enterprise as a business consultant with no experience of making yoghurt.
Murray’s intention in 1987 was only to help the owner sell the yoghurt-making side of his sheep and goat farm.
But he ended up buying the Woodlands Park Dairy factory himself, subsequently learning how to turn sheep’s and goats’ milk into yoghurt by attending courses and reading books.
“I had never even tasted yoghurt of any sort,” admits Murray. “The idea of goats’ yoghurt was even wilder still.”
But from output of just 100 pots of yoghurt a week for three Sainsburys in London, a contract he inherited on buying the business, he has created a company with a £400,000 turnover and listings in all Waitrose stores and 260 Sainsbury stores. Woodlands Park also has a presence in Morrisons in the south west and some Tescos in the south of England. The company also sells to independent health food and small grocery stores throughout the UK and Ireland.
Still only employing four full-time staff and three part-time drivers, the Wimborne, Dorset-based company takes 3,000 litres of sheep’s milk per week and 500-600 litres of goats’ milk and turns it into yoghurt - plain and flavoured.
While supplying goats’ milk products is becoming a crowded market, sheep’s milk still has fewer competitors, though Murray believes this will change. “There’s certainly a growing worldwide demand for sheep’s milk,” he says. “A lot of people are finding it very beneficial because it is easier to digest, as the protein structure is different.”
The hurdle to overcome is sheep’s milk’s seasonality, though frozen sheep’s milk lends itself to yoghurt making, permitting winter production.