Irish scientist saves Cumbrian baby milk plant

Irish scientist saves Cumbrian baby milk plant

Ross McMahon, 52, saved local jobs at former Heinz plant and has Chinese market in his sights

An Irish food scientist who saved a baby milk plant in Cumbria from closure has struck gold in the Chinese market. Ross McMahon bought the Kendal-based plant from Heinz after they decided to focus on ketchup and beans.

He developed a new baby milk formula and named it Kendamil after the factory’s hometown. It is relatively unknown in the UK and is only available online, in high-end supermarket Booths and in 50 kosher shops across London.

But Mr McMahon has tapped into the market in China, where his product is stocked in 2,000 shops.

After a contamination scandal in 2008, which saw 300,000 babies fall ill and six die, parents in China have been looking abroad for milk. The entrepreneur sensed an opportunity and, utilising his contacts in the Far East, has seen his profits soar. Kendamil secured a lucrative £6 million deal with Orient International Shanghai Foreign Trade Company and its factory has recently gained Chinese accreditation.

This means it is only one of 75 in the world allowed to export to China and Mr McMahon believes it came about due to the faith they have in his product.

“They really respect the food quality of the brand,” he said. “They had concerns about their own domestic production.”

The 52-year-old took a calculated gamble by moving from near Dublin to the north of England as he invested £1.3 million. The plant, which employs 120 people, is breaking even and turnover increased from £8.5 million the year after the takeover to £12 million this year.

Mr McMahon wants to reach £31 million by 2020. He plans to target some of the UK’s bigger supermarkets and will showcase his new organic milk at the Shanghai Children Baby Maternity Industry Expo in July. He also has his sights set on the major baby milk producers – Cow & Gate and Aptamil, both owned by French company Danone. By promoting the milk’s British origins he hopes to attract parents who might be unaware of where their milk actually comes from.

“Big, multinational companies produce one product in ten different countries and consumers don’t realise where it’s from,” Mr McMahon said.

“British parents assume their milk comes from the UK. Should any issue arise in a foreign factory, they are unlikely to hear about it.”

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