At Dairy Crest, Conservation & Innovation are a Winning Combination
We’re delighted to introduce Dairy Crest to the fold as a Supporting Sponsor at FoodBytes! London. Best known for manufacturing family favourites like Cathedral City Cheddar, this Great British giant has built its reputation (and an attractive P&L) on its countryside roots and their support of the local farming community.
We talked to Kate Goode, Investor Relations & Corporate Communications Director at Dairy Crest, about their ambitions to bring sustainability, conservation and innovation together in ways that celebrate the brand’s past and optimize opportunities to take the business into the future.
Your CEO, Mark Allen, attributes much of your recent success to innovation. Can you tell us more about the innovations that are making a difference to the bottom line at Dairy Crest?
We set ourselves the challenging target of generating 10% of annual revenue from product innovations brought to market in the last three years. That felt like an impossible task to some, but we’re proud to say 14% of revenue came from those innovations in 2017, proving nothing is impossible.
Snacking and convenience products are key growth areas for us, as is the low-fat market, with light alternatives and Frylight accounting for 15% of overall branded sales volumes.
Clover dairy spread is the perfect example of successful product innovation for us. Launched in 2015 as the only spread in the UK with no artificial ingredients, consumers were quick to embrace it and it’s the number one dairy spread in the UK today, by some margin. To build on that success and respond to the growing trend towards natural and unprocessed products, we added a light option to the range in August 2018, which we’re confident will be received just as well.
Sustainability and ethical sourcing are more important to businesses and consumers than ever. Can you tell us about the strides you’ve been making there?
We buy our entire milk supply from around 330 farmers in Devon and Cornwall. They supply Dairy Crest exclusively and we work together to meet the high standards that ensure an exceptional product and first-class traceability. We hope our plans to increase manufacturing in Cornwall will make those partnerships even stronger. The increased cheese production capacity of 77,000 tonnes per year requires a lot more milk, and because we’re committed to the long-standing relationships with our dairy farmers, we’re keen for them to come on this journey with us and invest in their own businesses.
As an organisation, we insist that sustainability and corporate responsibility are at the heart of everything we do. And to keep us on our toes, we have 14 core pledges, each with a designated business owner, to ensure we never lose focus and stay on track.
For example, we aim to make our packaging 100% recyclable by 2021/22. We’re at 80% currently and confident we’ll increase that figure year-on-year to reach our target. We monitor energy efficiency closely too. Right now, 40% of our energy comes from renewable sources and we’re investing in projects all the time to help reduce usage. It’s a similar story on the water front, with 47% coming from recycled sources and our upcoming investment to increase cheese production is also focused on becoming more self-sufficient in our use of water, as well as being more energy efficient.
They’re ambitious plans, but we believe the best way to grow our business is to stretch ourselves in terms of sustainable output.
As a prospective partner and investor, which food tech trends and innovations are you eager to explore?
We want to broaden our product range and make it easier for consumers to choose healthy, tasty, sustainable food, so innovations that create opportunities in those areas appeal to us.
Packaging is high on our agenda too, making startups with ideas on how to reduce packaging volume or create recyclable alternatives, particularly interesting.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for startup collaboration and investment to meet your ambitious growth plans?
We’re a progressive organisation and we’re always looking for new ideas to grow the business. We’re happy to achieve that organically, through acquisitions or investing in fresh thinkers with innovative ideas.
We launched our Functional Ingredients business in 2016 after developing demineralized whey and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a prebiotic proven to improve gut health, both of which are used in infant formula.
It was an important milestone for business growth, but it was hugely exciting too because it opened the door to new possibility. We’re currently exploring new uses for GOS in the adult nutrition and animal feed markets and getting ready to launch an innovative GOS product that will allow consumers to take a daily ‘shot’ of the prebiotic, to help digestive comfort.
What attracted you to the FoodBytes! mission and what do you hope to gain from being part of the FoodBytes! family?
We were drawn by the opportunity to work with like-minded people primarily. There’s no substitute for the energy and motivation created by startups that strive to create and innovate. We’re thrilled to be part of the whole FoodBytes! experience and the chance to meet new people, listen to their stories and with any luck, help bring some great ideas to life. Of course, if we happen to discover a pioneering new product to launch along the way, that would be the icing on the cake!