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Paddy Hintz - Senior Consultant, Media & Communications

The SAS Group is privileged to work with some significant global businesses, one of which is the world’s fifth largest dairy producer, Yili.

This work has involved providing communications support during and after Yili’s acquisition of Westland Milk Products, a venerable dairy co-operative on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

The Yili acquisition was approved by New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office and the High Court. The former owners of the co-op, the West Coast dairy farmers who supply Westland Milk Products with its raw product, voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting Yili’s terms, which included a 10-year guarantee to match NZ dairy giant Fonterra’s farm gate milk prices and enough capital to ease the considerable financial stress many in the farming community were then experiencing.

It is not overstating things to suggest that Westland Milk Products was rescued by the terms of the acquisition at a time when the co-op was struggling to service growing debt while finding funds to invest in much needed plant and equipment.

Yili’s investment has kept the largest private employer on the West Coast in business.

Seventeen months on from that acquisition, it was rewarding to see a feature in NZ trade publication Dairy Exporter last week report extensively on the benefits the sale has brought to the region.

As one farmer noted in the Dairy Exporter report: “It would be nice to be a co-op and doing well, but the reality was it wasn’t doing well. Now we’re seeing the returns on the work we’re putting in and that makes people happy. When you’re getting a decent payout for the product you’re producing, it’s better for your mental health.’’

Our work since the complex acquisition process concluded in 2019 has been devoted largely to keeping the communications activities of Yili’s two dairy processors in New Zealand running while providing a bridge between New Zealand and China through our SAS Group China division, and the work of its CEO Victoria Qiu.

During this time, it has been striking to note our similarities, rather than our differences.

As a long-term community partner, Westland has strong roots in its community and when it needed to build an ocean outfall pipeline to come up with a more sustainable way of disposing of treated wastewater, it needed community consent.

The company’s strong partnerships allowed this work – now almost complete – to go ahead. Before a sod was dug from the ground, the company had to earn the good faith of groups such as the West Coast Penguin Trust. Months were spent planning how work would not disrupt penguin habitat and extensive training and induction programs for the contractors working on the project were developed.

When a little blue penguin was found and rescued on the site recently, thanks to the careful treatment by contractors, Yili was delighted to share this news to millions of consumers who follow the company through its global WeChat platform.

An Ocean Outfall proposal by Oceania Dairy Limited (ODL) Ocean Outfall proposal was also approved for construction last year. ODL is another one of Yili’s investments, established with a $236 million investment in 2013.

Yili places a strong emphasis on sustainability, committing to reducing its 2012 carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

It is not surprising, therefore, that New Zealand’s pristine natural environment, the West Coast’s amazing rainfall, which varies from 2m to 10m a year, and the outstanding raw milk product produced in such an environment, has attracted their interest.

Penguin Pic

This penguin was released back into the sea by constractors working on the Westland Milk Products ocean pipeline after it was found sheltering under on-site storage. 

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