It has backed its commitment with a €100m R&D centre in Naas near Dublin to foster innovation in dairy nutrients and foods both within Kerry and with its clients in sectors like infant formula and sports nutrition.
Kerry has evolved into a global dairy giant but chose to house its new R&D centre in its home country and back European-based innovation.
It will focus on European markets as well as the Middle East and Africa but work with its other regional R&D hubs in the Americas and Asia, chief technology officer in functional ingredients and actives, Albert McQuaid, told us on a visit to the site.
“Europe needs innovation,” he said. “The dairy sector and added value dairy is well positioned to do that as it can deliver in taste and nutrition.”
According to the Irish Food Board (Bord Bia) dairy foods and ingredients exports reached €3bn in 2014, making it Ireland’s largest food exporting sector, ahead of beef (€2.25bn), prepared foods (€1.67bn) and beverages (€1.2bn).
McQuaid added: “The macro situation is not growing in Europe but segments will grow and we are well positioned to tap into that, especially now with this new facility.”
Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food, the Marine & Defence, Simon Coveney, opened the centre where about 800 people work including researchers, product developers, formulators, business development experts and managers. 100 more are set to join the ranks in 2016.
“Kerry has grown from a regional producer into the biggest food company in Ireland and the 2nd biggest company in the country,” Coveney told us in advance of the official centre opening. “The facility has 900 people committed to designing future foods. So that’s a great success story for Kerry and the dairy industry.
“Essentially they have gone from a straightjacket around supply controls to finding a way to add value by looking at nutrition and whether they can use the components of dairy products much more effectively than they have done previously.”
“So rather than simply exporting large volumes of skimmed and semi-skilled powders and whole milk powders – and to a large extent a lot of basic butter and cheese, the range and value of Irish dairy products has dramatically increased. It has also attracted in a lot of foreign investment so the four biggest infant nutrition companies in the world have a presence in Irleland.”
In this added-value avenue Kerry, along with the other Irish dairy majors Glanbia, Dairygold, Carbery and research institutions and universities, are partners of the milk mining collaboration Food for Health Ireland (FHI), which is coordinating efforts to boost further the value of milk via research in areas like weight management and sports nutrition.
McQuaid said Kerry was committed to the “pre-competitive research environment” at FHI.
At the Naas opening Kerry CEO Stan McCarthy said the facility would better enable the company to interact with its customers and "provide key customers with access to the group’s complete breadth and depth of technologies, scientific research, innovation and applications expertise across food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets."
“In addition, it will serve as the group’s global centre of excellence for nutrition and will optimise product differentiation in the marketplace, while providing unrivalled speed to market."