Theo Müller: From village dairy to international food company

Whether in Italy, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom – the brands of the Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller are now represented throughout Europe. One of the most modern sites is found in the “dairy city” of Leppersdorf in Saxony.

Today’s Leppersdorf site no longer bears many similarities to the shell construction that the dairy Alois Müller GmbH acquired and started to operate 20 years ago – except that you can still see some cranes that have characterised the skyline of the dairy giant with only a few short interruptions. They have not only become a symbol of the exceptional development of the dairy at the gates of Dresden, but also of the entire Unter­nehmens­gruppe Theo Müller. The unbroken momentum and innovative strength of the Saxony-based plant will remain the driving force for the growth of the group of companies and is unique in the entire dairy sector, both in Germany and even in Europe.

Today, Sachsenmilch is more than “just” a dairy, bringing together many skills along the entire value chain under one roof: Optipack GmbH delivers the packaging, Müller Naturfarm GmbH produces the fruit compositions and mixtures, the in-house haulage company Culina GmbH handles logistics and FTA GmbH maintains the vehicles internally. Since the commissioning of the power plant, which covers 100 per cent of the site’s power and steam demands, Sachsenmilch has been largely autonomous in this respect – including when it comes to uncertainties in the German energy policy.

In addition to the three German sites in Aretsried, Freising and Leppersdorf, the Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller has also achieved great success on an international level. The company established its own production and sales plant in Market Drayton (Midlands) in 1987 and its Müller brand is quite successful on the British market. Thanks to its Fruit Corner or Crunch Corner products, Müller has been the market leader in the yoghurt segment since 1995. In recent years, the Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller experienced tremendous growth, especially in the United King­dom. With the acquisition of the British fresh milk producer Robert Wiseman Dairies at the beginning of 2012, which has been active on the British market under the name Müller Wiseman Dairies ever since, the Unternehmensgruppe was able to considerably strengthen its position on the market. In January 2013, the Unter­nehmensgruppe additionally acquired the Minsterley plant, where licensed products of the Cadbury brand are produced. This was followed by the takeover of NOM Dairy UK Limited in September 2013, in­­cluding its state-of-the-art yoghurt production facility in Tel­­ford, Shropshire, which served as platform for the company to develop its presence in the UK private label yoghurt market. In De­­cember 2013, the new butter plant at the Müller Dairy site in Market Drayton was opened. In addition to own processing capabilities for cream produced in the production of fresh milk, this investment opened up further opportunities for value creation within the company. The British Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) approved the takeover of the dairy segment from Dairy Crest in autumn 2015. This additional milestone provides the chance to establish a competitive, future-oriented, efficient and innovative dairy company in the UK.

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The Leppersdorf site, the “dairy city” in Saxony – where ideal and nearly 100 per cent use of the milk is made by producing almost everything that can be produced out of the versatile and valu­­able raw material – is a role model for the strategy in the UK. The group has sales and distribution branches in Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland. The Czech dairy Mlékárna Pragolaktos is also part of the Unter­nehmensgruppe, in addition to being the market leader in the UHT milk segment in the Czech Republic. In 2008, the company launched its products on the Israeli market and thereby took the first step over European borders. All of the products launched on the Israeli market are produced in strict accordance with super-kosher regulations.

At the beginning of 2012, the company announced a joint venture with PepsiCo to tap the yoghurt segment in the US market. Only one year later, the new plant in Batavia, New York, was officially inaugurated in July 2013. Until production was started in Batavia, the Leppersdorf site had another oppor­tunity to prove its impressive capabilities. The US market was supplied with yoghurt “Made in Saxony” for one entire year. A prerequisite for this was to obtain the ap­­proval of the US Food and Drug Administration for the dairy plant, the Optipack cup production facility and the dairy farm that supplied the necessary raw materials for the US products. At that time, Sachsenmilch Leppersdorf GmbH was one of only a few dairies worldwide that were allowed to ship dairy products to the USA.

The recipe for success of the Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller was and still is to reinvest nearly all of its profits into the company. That holds good for the future.

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After acquiring the general certificate of secondary education, the author started vocational training in the dairy industry and received an examination for the master’s certificate in the dairy segment. In 1971, he took over the dairy founded by his parents and expanded it. In the beginning, the dairy only had 5 employees – today in 2015, the Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller is an internationally operating food company with over 22,000 employees and an annual turnover of more than 5 billion euros.