Westland Milk Products expansion doubles plant capacity

The West Coast's economy has taken a hammering over the past two years.

But when tourism ground to a halt, there was another industry that continued churning right throughout the pandemic and now it's growing.

Most people agree butter makes things better and that's certainly the case for the West Coast economy.

"Having that dairy industry performing well has been an absolute godsend for the West Coast," said Heath Milne, CEO at Development West Coast.

That's because it continued operating while other industries, like tourism, couldn't. The West Coast currently has the greatest share of GDP from dairy in the country.

"Sixty percent of our exports from the Coast is dairy so that's vitally important," Milne said.

The latest Infometrics data shows 400 people work on dairy farms on the West Coast and 660 work at the region's largest private employer, Westland Milk Products, which has just expanded.

"Our equipment that we had in place was quite aged. The churn was commissioned in 1978 so it was time for an upgrade," said Westland Milk Products operations manager Hayden Condon.

There was also additional employment during the plant's construction.

"We had a very tight time frame to build the plant, shut down in April and had to reopen in September - very short time frame to strip out the old one and rebuild the new one," Condon said.

The former cooperative was purchased by international dairy giant Yili, three years ago.

"It's cemented the future of dairy on the Coast and with their support we've got back into a profitable position," said Westland Milk Products quality and technical GM Shane Gordon.

The new plant has doubled its capacity and can churn up to 42,000 tonnes of butter a year.

Sending a piece of the West Coast out to the world while the West Coast waits for the world to come back to it.