A SOUTH Lakeland business has won a £6million contract to supply its infant formula milk to China and boost employment.

Workers at Kendal Nutricare Ltd were celebrating yesterday as tins of the product started rolling off the production line destined for the Far East.

The company's managing director, Ross McMahon hopes that the contract with the Orient International Shanghai Foreign Trade Company Ltd will create new employment opportunities for local people.

“We were delighted to secure the contract," he said. "It will be exciting to see this first production of Kendamil for the Chinese market leaving the factory."

The news is particularly encouraging as just under a year ago the factory was owned by Heinz and 88 jobs were threatened when it was announced that the Mint Bridge Road site had been sold.

Heinz promised that the sale would offer a 'positive future' for the factory and its employees. Kendal Nutricare has delivered and ensured that the jobs were secured, and the new investment deal will mean that a further 20 jobs are likely to be created.

"We've already increased employment but it's really secured the future for us," said Mr McMahon. "We've already increased the staff numbers up to 108 and after the launch in Shanghai on July 21 of this new brand we expect to grow numbers as early as August, possibly by 20."

Kendamil is the only infant formula and cereal brand in Britain to be made with whole milk, rather than skimmed. The milk comes from herds of cows from around Cumbria.

It is a move that the National Farmers' Union has welcomed, explaining that exporting is going to be an essential part of the future of dairy.

Siân Davies, Chief Dairy Adviser at NFU, said: "This is really positive news – we know that long term demand for dairy is positive but that most of that growth will come from outside the UK or even EU.

"The NFU has been encouraging our milk processors to look at markets outside the EU so this new £6million contract to China is good news. Kendal Nutricare source milk locally from Cumbria so this should bring value back to dairy farmers in the region.”

Mr McMahon is keen to promote the use of British produce, saying that it is something that the consumer is now actively looking for.

"UK consumers are asking for local provenance," he said. "There's a freshness story with it and there's a real quality story. By buying in a closely knit community here we can ensure full traceability."

Cllr Giles Archibald, who is the Economic Growth, Town Centres and Small Businesses Portfolio Holder for South Lakeland District Council, is 'delighted' with the news.

"It shows that South Lakeland is a place where dynamic businesses like Kendal Nutricare can flourish. This contract with China represents a local and a global success story," he said. “As a council we are determined to do everything we can to encourage this sort of investment. I am sure this success will help to secure and create jobs for the people of South Lakeland.

"We are obviously very pleased that Nutricare has proven to be successful. It's very important for Kendal to show that we are not just a tourist destination. We have great art and culture here but we are also keen to build our industrial business. It's one of the primary aims of the town council. So we say this is terrific to show other businesses that we can."

Having relaxed the one-child rule last year, China's baby food sales are now booming, having almost doubled from 2010 to 2015 and making it an ideal market for Nutricare to expand into.

And it seems likely that the company will continue to grow, as they look at offering a variety of other products and with Mr McMahon stating that he has been in talks with European supermarkets.

"We like to have a geographic spread," he said. "So we're not reliant on any one market and if there's a change in legislation then we have possibilities."

Jonathan Denby, a South Lakes hotelier, has said that over the past five years he has seen the number of Chinese tourists in South Lakes increase from almost nothing, to guests staying at his hotels every day and he expects the links between China and South Lakeland to only get stronger.

"The Chinese are starting to come to Europe for the first time since their economy started to boom," he said. "From my perspective as a hotelier, we are seeing stronger links with China every day."

MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, has said that the contract is 'great news' for the local economy.

"Not only will the Kendal Nutricare Factory support local jobs, it will also provide a welcome boost for local farmers," he said. "The dairy industry has been through a difficult time recently, so a new market for their milk is good news for local farmers.”