Thursday, 17 December 2020 13:20

Ex-pilot joins shift as demand soars

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Ex-pilot Liam Fitzgerald with plant manager Blake Aston. Ex-pilot Liam Fitzgerald with plant manager Blake Aston.

Record sales of cream cheese in China has seen Fonterra ramp up production at its Darfield site in Canterbury.

The co-op has hired a full shift of new recruits: the five-member team will work alongside the three other shifts at the plant.

One of those new employees is Liam Fitzgerald, who worked as an international pilot at Air New Zealand for the last eight years until COVID-19 required him to make a change. 

“About 15 years ago I worked for Fonterra up at Edgecumbe. Recently, when my flying career came to a halt unexpectedly, I spoke to my wife about returning to the dairy industry,” says Fitzgerald.

“I grew up rural in Whakatane and knew the culture and lifestyle of the industry would work for us as we have a young family.

“The opportunity came up in the cream cheese plant and having spoken to a few people I was really excited to join the team. It’s a small team but a modern plant and a cool product that I’m looking forward to working with.”

Fonterra Darfield cream cheese plant manager, Blake Aston says that with COVID-19 bringing uncertainty to the job market, it is good Fonterra’s able to offer new opportunities for people looking for work.

He says the team is seeing record monthly sales for cream cheese.

“Demand is predominately coming from China as we continue to see an increased interest in pasture-fed milk from New Zealand.”

The cream cheese is going into a range of different products, from cheese lollipops to traditional Chinese pastry like moon cakes.

“We have great flexibility here at the plant that enables us to dial up or down the firmness and consistency of cream cheese to meet customer preference and the great job our farmers are doing in delivering top quality milk,” says Blake.

Fonterra's Darfield site was established in 2012 and employs more than 280 people.

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