While other industries have been struggling with infant formula markets in recent times, Spring Sheep has managed to grow significantly in the last 12 months, new chief executive Nick Hammond says.

Nick, a co-founder and former chief operating officer for Spring Sheep, took over the role of chief executive during the recent Covid 19 lockdown.

“Our mantra has always been to have multiple channels, multiple products, multiple markets.

“What we’ve seen in the last year is where there has been an over-exposure to a specific channel product to market, if that’s been disrupted, there has been a major impact.

“By contrast, we have a whole lot of product lines, different markets, channels, customers, so we actually went through a 60% growth rate last year while everyone else was falling backwards.”

The growth through the pandemic has given him even more confidence in the sheep industry and the growth capability over the next few years.

“Looking ahead there is just a huge opportunity in this industry for New Zealand.

“The opportunity is a lot bigger than what we probably realised when we started this journey.”

The imported genetics have adapted a lot faster to a NZ pastoral system than they expected, the farming models are thus different, but a lot better than what they thought, and the potential markets have grown. Spring Sheep has two pilot farms in the Waikato, one is full pastoral, with the other operation a hybrid system with the mix of pastoral grazing and feeding in a covered barn. The full pastoral model is really stacking up on the numbers, Nick says.

“We thought we would get stuck on replicating more of a European model, in fact what we’ve done is created a NZ version of sheep milking that uses our advantages.”

The genetics were coming from indoor systems so there was a risk with how they would cope in a NZ pastoral context.

“We have found that those genetic breedlines have adapted very quickly to a NZ pastoral environment, far faster than we thought they would, and unless you’re in a specific environment, you just don’t need that infrastructure.”

In terms of growth in markets, clinical trial results proving sheep milk is more digestible is a great match to current global health trends and is opening more doors.

Spring Sheep Milk has also just won best infant nutrition at the World Dairy Innovation Awards, beating two of the largest global competitors Nestle and China Feihe and putting themselves in front of more customers.

There are 16 Spring Sheep farms, including the company’s three farms, milking a total of 12,700 sheep in the central North Island. The company plans to take on another five suppliers next season. Other groups are showing interest in the sheep milking industry and are looking to set up in other regions, which Spring Sheep is supportive of.

“We have got global aspirations with Spring Sheep, so seeing a stronger sheep milk industry is a really good thing.”

Already some great products are being produced, from ice cream to cheese, which makes it more appealing to consumers, which strengthens the industry as a whole, Hammond says.