One of Northern Ireland’s largest agri-food companies, Dale Farm Cooperative, has seen its pre-tax profit increase by 16% to £7.9 million (€8.8 million) for the year ending March 19.

Achieving a turnover of £389 million (€435 million), the company experienced a 12% rise in consumer sales – which Group Chief Executive Nick Whelan attributed to “innovation in product development” across butter, ice-cream, cheddar cheese, liquid milk, yoghurt and fresh desserts.

The business also managed to cut its net debt by 3.3% to £64.4 million (€72 million), thereby generating a positive cash flow.

Describing the results as a “solid performance despite it having been a year of two halves”, the dairy boss said the recovery in global dairy markets helped to boost performance in the second half.

This was on top of a “significant” cost reduction plan, which enabled the company to pay a “leading milk price” to producers in Northern Ireland and across Britain.

“A strategic focus for our business is the development of whey solutions, allowing us to respond to the growing domestic and international trend in protein-based products,” Whelan said.

“Another priority for the business is a focused effort to build on Dale Farm’s growing presence in the [Republic’s] ice-cream market. We are rolling out a sales and marketing programme to drive our brands across Ireland and will increase our resource in [the Republic] to deliver this.”

Brands that come under Dale Farm – which is headquartered in Belfast – include Dromona, Spelga, Mullins, Fivemiletown, Loseley and Rowan Glen.

Looking ahead, Whelan added: “We will continue to evaluate the considerable opportunities and threats that Brexit will present over the months ahead.

Our model presents us with much room for growth as we remain focused on ongoing innovation and maximising new routes to market.

“Our over-arching aim, however, is to continue to afford a leading milk price to our farmer membership.”