How do Irish processors cope with seasonality in supply?

Published 16 August 16

While the seasonal profile of milk production in Ireland does cause challenges to the processing sector, this article looks at how Irish processors have developed to cope with it.

Staffing and sites

Modern milk processing sites can be run by a surprisingly small number of staff due to the level of automation involved. Packing and finished goods distribution, on the other hand, does tend to require higher staffing levels. The seasonal milk profile in Ireland will impact predominantly on the milk processing end of the chain. The industry is therefore able to manage by using seasonal staff as needed at peak production times and outsourcing activities such as milk haulage.

Processors may also opt to temporarily close plants fully for maintenance for part of the year. Glanbia did this in October last year, by consolidating processing at two of its four main manufacturing sites. Some processors may also choose to share sites over the winter, thereby closing others.

Stocks and finished goods

Historically Irish cheese used to be produced from grass from milk supplied between March and September. Today processors have been able to extend their cheese production period from February to November with no effect on quality.

In order to guarantee year-round supply for customers, additional milk may be diverted to cheese production during peak months. This cheese will then be placed in storage at 4-5oC until it is needed. By altering the storage temperature of the cheese, Irish processors are able to ensure a continual supply of product to customers, with the correct flavour profile. This does add to the already high working capital cost associated with cheese production, due to the delay in being paid. However, the longer Irish cheese production period today means this is not as severe an issue as it has been in the past. Every month added to the storage period will also add around £5 per tonne to the cost of producing the cheese through storage charges.

Milk and product quality

The production profile can cause processors issues with late lactation milk. Seasonally produced milk results in variability in milk solids. In general, lactose drops, while cell counts and fats increase, which can cause problems for product quality, flavour and stability. This is a particular issue for cheese production, and can also result in a more rancid taste for butter. 

 How do Irish processors cope with seasonality in supply?

In more recent times, processors like Glanbia have been able to achieve improved solids and stability with enhanced winter milk schemes. Processors have also developed a broader product portfolio, such as using fresh milk for Baileys cream liqueur, which helps increase demand for winter milk.