Brownes buys boutique producer
Brownes managing director Ben Purcell and Casa's Vic Letizia. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

WA's foodie revolution has spurred a decision by Brownes Dairy to buy Casa, a boutique yoghurt and cheesemaker, in a move expected to help shore up the State's milk industry.

In a sign of WA's growing culinary sophistication since the days when lamb and mint sauce were avante garde, Brownes claims the growing popularity of Casa's gourmet products was a major drawcard.

Brownes managing director Ben Purcell said there were plans to expand the niche range by tapping further into the Eastern States, and possibly into Asia, which would boost demand for WA milk.

"We are all aware of the home-cooking revolution driven by MasterChef and these types of shows," Mr Purcell said. "Casa has got products like mascarpone and creme fraiche that are ideally suited to cooking in the home.

"We think consumers are becoming more discerning and understand the difference between Greek-style yoghurt versus traditional yoghurt versus the mainstream. That's part of the reason we found the business quite attractive."

Mr Purcell said the acquisition and expansion plans would help to sustain WA's ailing milk sector.

Dairy Australia figures show WA was the only State to post a significant drop in year-on-year milk production, despite a surging population. Production fell 6.7 per cent in 2011-12 compared to the previous financial year. In April Brownes lifted the farm gate price by 5 per cent, from 42¢ to 44¢ a litre.

"We did that in one of the toughest retailing environments in the history of Australia but we needed to do it to keep the industry sustainable," Mr Purcell said.

"We are very concerned about the amount of milk imported in the State, hundreds of millions of litres of milk imported into WA via yoghurt and cheese, and this move will help us secure a greater share for milk suppliers here in WA."

Mr Purcell dismissed rumours that Brownes, owned by private equity firm Archer Capital, was mooted for an imminent float.

"We've only owned the business for 15 months, and we've got a lot of work to do," he said.

"The business at this stage is not for sale. We are focused on sustaining the industry; we're focused on making the business efficient, we're focused on igniting the passion of employees at Brownes."

Casa Dairy's 27 employees at Casa Dairy will keep their jobs.

The West Australian

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