First Milk get the cream of Shaftesbury

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BV Dairy, the globally successful third generation family business in Shaftesbury, has been sold to First Milk – a British farming co-operative.
The Highnam family started their Dorset dairy business when they bought Dairy House Farm in Kington Magna on the edge of the Blackmore Vale in North Dorset. They then took over Lower Caggypole Farm in neighbouring Buckhorn Weston, bottling milk on the farm and sending surplus to Gillingham Dairies. Eventually, Highnam’s Dairy bought Gillingham Dairies.

In 1948, the Highnam family relocated to Old Rectory Farm, still in Kington Magna. They began by making clotted cream on a kitchen table, and a decade later, after selling their dairy herd, Jack Highnam and his son Christopher started Blackmore Vale Farm Cream Ltd, buying in milk from three neighbouring farms to produce cream, clotted cream, and a variety of high-quality dairy goods.

By 1985, the growing demands of the business necessitated a move to a new location, and the company established its current operations at the BV Dairy facility on Wincombe Lane in Shaftesbury. With the extra space the product range was extended to cultured milk products like yoghurts, sour cream and crème fraîche – anything from nought per cent fat soft cheese (quark) up to a 45 per cent fat cream cheese.

Milk is currently sourced from Red Tractor accredited farms within a 30 mile radius of the Shaftesbury site – typically with a long heritage of dairy farming, and a long relationship with the Dairy. They vary in size from smaller, family farms with around 80 cows up to larger concerns with 400 cows. The systems used are dependent on the individual farm but ALL cows will go out on grass for a period of the year, and spend their winter in a cubicle house or barn.

BV Dairy’s award-winning specialist dairy products are supplied to the manufacturing, catering and food service industries, and now include soft cheeses, crème fraiche, buttermilk, cream (single, double and whipping), Dorset clotted cream, fromage frais, yogurts including Greek style, soured cream, ricotta and mascarpone.

October 2016 saw the commissioning of a new chill store facility, housing 1,000 pallet spaces and incorporating new office space and storage. The design ethos was based on ‘lean’ principles, utilising VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) Fork Trucks running on guidance systems and solar panels which generate 3,500kWh of electricity each day. To further the work towards a minimal carbon footprint, an Anaerobic Digester was installed, which converts production waste into power.
In 2020 the firm received £750,000 in funding from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), and created more than 32 high-skilled jobs as part of a £2m expansion.

Jim Highnam, Managing Director of BV Dairy, says: ‘Having made the decision to sell the business, we wanted to ensure that the new owners would provide a secure future for our customers, colleagues, farmers and suppliers. As such, I’m pleased to finalise this transaction and see BV Dairy become part of First Milk – both businesses share a down-to-earth, pragmatic approach, balancing the needs of all stakeholders.’

Shelagh Hancock, Chief Executive of First Milk, said: ‘I am delighted to complete the acquisition of BV Dairy, a successful family-owned business, which shares many common values with First Milk – a focus on people and community, environmental performance, exceptional quality and long-term value creation. We look forward to welcoming the wider BV Dairy family into our First Milk family.   
‘The BV Dairy business has strong customer relationships and a reputation for quality and service across food manufacture and food service.’ 

Owned by around 700 farming families spread across Britain, First Milk produces a range of  Cheddar, Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheese. In addition, they produce bulk cream and whey proteins and focus on providing high quality, traceable fresh milk to a range of dairy manufacturers and processors across the UK.  Farmer director and vice-chairman, Mike Smith, added: ‘This purchase builds on the existing strengths of First Milk and will bring wider benefits, adding value for our members, creating opportunities for our colleagues and enabling us to extend our regenerative positioning into a broader range of dairy products and customers.’ 

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