Fonterra’s new $140 million state-of-the-art cheese factory at Stanhope in northern Victoria has returned to full production after fire destroyed the previous plant in late 2014.
The re-built factory has capacity to process up to 1.3 million litres of milk a day.
The plant returns Fonterra’s mozzarella cheese production to Australia for the first time since 2013.
In December 2014 an electrical fire in the roof spread rapidly causing the old premises to collapse.
Australian-made mozzarella from the site is now being sent to China to meet growing demand as western-style foods such as pizza rise rapidly in popularity.
Victoria’s Regional Development Minister, Jaala Pulford ,has joined Fonterra officials, local farmers and community members to officially open the new plant.
The big Fonterra Co-operative’s New Zealand chairman, John Wilson, said the investment would support the co-op’s efforts to further capture the strong global demand for dairy products.
Output would supply the company’s growing demand for cheese domestically and across Asia, particularly in China and Japan.
“Australia is a global ingredients hub for Fonterra’s cheese, whey and nutritionals, complementing our consumer and foodservice businesses,” Mr Watson said.
“Stanhope will help us to meet the growing global demand for cheese being driven by a strengthening middle class in our key markets.”
China alone was already a $4.6 billion market for protein, and growing at 4 per cent annually.
Fonterra cheese tops more than half the pizzas made in China.
He said the future for Australian dairy was positive thanks to strong long-term fundamentals global prices returning to more sustainable levels.
“Today’s opening is a clear sign of our co-operative’s belief in the local dairy industry and our commitment to Australian farmers,” Mr Watson said.
The Stanhope rebuild involved more than 7500 tonnes of freshly poured concrete, about 80 containers of new equipment shipped in, and 330,000 man hours worked by more than 200 contractors at the new cheese plant site.
Ms Pulford noted the new plant had injected more than $30m into the local economy, in particular now creating about 30 new jobs.
“This investment secures the future of Fonterra’s Stanhope facility and ensures northern Victorian farmers have a home for their milk,” she said.
“It’s a vote of confidence in regional Victoria and in the Victorian dairy industry.”
Fonterra Australia’s managing director, René Dedoncker, said Fonterra led Australia’s $2 billion consumer cheese category.
The company was also the dairy market leader in foodservice, providing dairy solutions to chefs Australia-wide, and one of Australia’s top dairy ingredients exporters.
“The new Stanhope cheese plant is core to our strategy and helps us build on our market position, ensuring we have a sustainable business that delivers to everyone along the value chain,” he said.
“Forty per cent of people in urban China eat at Western-style fast food outlets once a week, and the use of dairy in foodservice has grown by over 30pc in just five years.
“This growth has been helped by demand for cheese – as disposable incomes rise the dining-out culture is growing, particularly for pizza.
“In Japan, cheese consumption is rising by 3pc annually, with huge potential for growth.”
Japan is the world’s second-largest importer of cheese and Australia’s biggest cheese buyer.
Australia is also Japan’s biggest supplier.