Dansko, which sells dairy products to suppliers for retailers and restaurants around the world, has weathered both Brexit and Covid-19 and is now hoping to increase production with a new plant located in Kilmallock, Co Limerick.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the family company increased its sales by almost 8 per cent in the year ended September 2020, shifting away from food service providers hit by successive lockdowns and selling more to companies in the retail sphere.
“If you were strictly in food service, you were in trouble; if you were strictly in retail, you had a good year,” David O’Neill, director of Dansko, said. “We had a blend of both.”
As Dansko emerges from the pandemic, O’Neill is seeking to steer the firm towards manufacturing dairy products out of raw materials – what he calls the “value-add side of the business” – and away from the trading side.
“In the industry that we’re in, there’s a lot of competitors on the trading side, but few competitors on the value-add side of the industry that we’re in,” he said.
“What we’re looking to do is dramatically change the way that operating model works.”
This, Dansko’s senior officials believe, will allow the company to increase its output by up to 40 per cent within three years.
O’Neill also feels that sustainability is the next big “game changer” for the dairy industry, and is currently establishing environmental targets for the company to meet.
He has been at the helm of Dansko Foods for more than a decade, but his involvement in the global dairy company goes back much further than that. He has been steeped in Dansko, founded by his father in 1986, for almost all of his life.
“It was in the blood,” he said. “Food has always been in our DNA.”
O’Neill remembers conversations around the lunch table about “this customer, or that supplier, or this employee . . . it was always there”.
It’s hardly any wonder, then, that he never suffered from the problem of not knowing what career he wanted to pursue. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.
Alongside his sister Suzanne, who serves as Dansko’s financial director, he has taken on the task of achieving further growth in a business which does 97 per cent of its sales outside of Ireland.
O’Neill, who has a degree in food business from University College Cork, said Dansko was still based on the same values as it was when his parents were managing it decades ago. But a number of external factors, including Brexit, Covid and the abolition of milk quotas in 2015, have changed the way the firm does business, with sustainability now at the forefront.
Its new plant in Limerick, purchased from Limerick City and County Council, should be operational by early 2023, and will pave the way for Dansko to achieve the ambitious targets it has set for itself, O’Neill said.
It will also position Dansko well to meet sustainability goals, he added. “Sustainability is going to be a major differentiator for businesses, particularly in our industry.
“We’re in a good position in that we’re moving to a new plant, and we’ll design the plant to be the most sustainable plant it possibly can be.”