Keeping tradition alive
With its remote location on an island of only 1700 people, King Island Dairy has managed to maintain relatively a small and close-knit company feel despite its big name. Under the watchful eye of National Foods, King Island Dairy has remained a brand known for its excellence within the dairy industry. Using only the finest ingredients, King Island Dairy has created some of the most internationally acclaimed products known for their quality, taste, and texture. The company was formally established in 1901 but only began making specialty cheese in the 70s, which has become a core focus. In 2002, National Foods bought King Island Dairy.
Trends and challenges
After an extended period of rapid growth, these last two years have seen things begin to slow down for the company. “Things have been a lot tougher,” says Trevor Stones, the Director for Cheese in Tasmania. “There are now more brands and a lot more players in the market,” says Trevor. King Island Dairy is not growing as fast it was in previous years – but Trevor expects this to change.
King Island’s size is what sets it apart from its competition. It has contributed to its success but also creates challenges for the company. “King Island, in its own way, is very remote. Its main challenge is being self sufficient. There is only one ship per week to get our product off of the island. This is just one of the challenges to make sure we meet our customer requirements and deliver quality product on time,” says Trevor. With only about 120 employees at the peak of the season, getting everything done can indeed be difficult. Skilled labour is an important aspect of King Island Dairy’s operation. For any company finding skilled labour can be a great challenge, but at King Island, things are done a little differently. “We still have a very manual operation,” says Trevor. In comparison to some of the larger dairy producers, King Island Dairy prides itself in doing things the old fashioned way.
“We still have traditional making of cheese with cheesemakers that interact with the cheese to get the best results,” says Trevor. “With only 1700 people on the island, having the right people at the right time is still a challenge,” says Trevor. Additionally, as with other companies in the food industry, King Island Dairy faces seasonal challenges. “In the past where we have experienced droughts and currently we’ve had a good season so far this year we need to balance production with milk supply – as there is only a limited supply of milk and only one cheese factory,” says Trevor. During seasons of drought the company does what it must to conserve resources. However, in the face of such challenges King Island Dairy never fails to produce a quality product of distinction.
King Island Dairy sets itself apart from other dairy retailers in a variety of ways. First and foremost, the production of their cheeses is all done manually and with great care. They also have their own water source and a dairy farm on the island. “There are things you wouldn’t ordinarily find at a mainland site,” says Trevor. Trevor says that King Island Dairy uses milk that is sourced from cows that graze on lush pastures all year round. In doing this they are able to produce an even greater tasting cheese. The dairy farmers that work with them are also very passionate about the King Island Brand and really take pride in what they are doing.
They are a part of the community
King Island Dairy recognises how difficult it is to find good employees, so whenever possible they try to give back to their workforce and show their appreciation. One way of accomplishing this is through the overall health and well-being program they have in place. “Because we are very much a part of the community, we are actively involved in promoting King Island and King Island produce. It’s important to support local organisations, whether it’s a sporting club and arts group, the local ambulance volunteers or even the school. We see it as contributing to our employees really, because they’re such a big part of the community. We try to focus on activities external to the factory,” says Trevor. “While monetary donations are wonderful, sometimes there are things even more important and valuable, with cheese and platters for raffles the most asked for donations.”
The skill and care that goes into King Island Dairy’s handcrafted product does not go unnoticed. Many of their cheeses, as well as their creams and yoghurts, have received acclaim from some of the world’s most prestigious dairy award competitions. King Island has taken home top awards from venues like the New York Fancy Food Show, the World Championship Cheese Contest, the Annual British Empire Cheese Show, the Australian Grand Dairy Awards and the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers Association Show (ASCA).
The ASCA alone has crowned King Island Dairy ‘Champion’ over six times for its many high-quality cheeses, in particular for their celebrated Bass Strait Blue and Endeavour Blue cheeses. Their Black Label Double Brie cheese is a constant award winner too, with 11 medals from various Australian competitions under its belt. King Island Dairy Pure Cream has also received multiple gold medals from the Dairy Industry Association of Australia
King Island Dairy uses its very own water source so water conservation is important. “We’re really focussed on reducing water usage, as we can’t run out or it will stop production and it is expensive to cart water in,” says Trevor. This recently included an RO plant installation to filter the water to the boiler leading to 5000 litres per-day water usage reduction as well as a 15per cent decrease in gas usage. “We also spend a lot of time to make sure our waste water is better than expected by our key stakeholders which of course includes the community expectations.” Going above and beyond seems to be a trend of King Island Dairy’s.
King Island Dairy has grown substantially since its founding in 1901, however, even as the market slows down they continue to predict growth, but simply at a slower rate. “We want to continue doing what we are now. I don’t see it as a rapid growth. I see us focussing on making premium quality products, whether that is our cheeses or yoghurts,” says Trevor. King Island Dairy, as part of the National Foods review, recently announced a further $12 million investment into King Island to lay the platform for future growth and innovation and to improve yield. “This announcement secures the King Island brand and therefore the factory and its people for years to come” says Trevor.