By Debbie James

When milk prices fluctuate, uncertainty over future profits will encourage some producers to take things into their own hands.

This is true of Laurence Harris, the dairy farmer behind the hugely successful Daioni range of fresh and flavoured organic milks.

A 10p a litre shortfall in the price he expected to receive for his organic milk was the catalyst that kick-started the business in the Pembrokeshire hamlet of Abercych at the western tip of Wales in 2001.

Laurence recalls attending a Milk Marque meeting in Pembrokeshire when he and other organic producers were promised 32p for every litre they could supply. This was not to be.

“So many farmers converted that the price tumbled to 22p. We found ourselves with the added expense of producing organic milk but with no price premium,’’ says Laurence.

He sought a formula that would add value to his milk without large financial investment in equipment.

Although he had no experience of sales or processing, his decision to create a range of organic, naturally flavoured milks wasn’t a leap in the dark.

Laurence had done his research, identifying a gap that existed in the market as no similar product was being sold in the UK at that time.

Fast-forward to 2018 and two million litres of flavoured and fresh organic milk are sold annually under the Daioni brand. The business is achieving year on year growth of both product lines and exporting to countries including China.

From the original farm activity in 1975 the farm and resulting dairy business now operates worldwide with a turnover in excess £4.5 million.

The company name has since been changed from Trioni Ltd to Daioni Ltd to bring clarity to the brand.

To support expansion of the business, Laurence and Eira’s son, Tom, who had been working as a post–doctorate research scientist in America, returned home to farm.

“Strong family support has been the key to Daioni’s success,’’ says Laurence.

Initially, the organic milk was transported by the company’s own tanker to Tomlinsons in Wrexham but this is now in the hands of OMSCo, which buys surplus milk from the Harris’s farms.

“OMCSo was able to do the job more efficiently and we work very closely with them,’’ says Laurence.

Family support has been an enormous help. Tom and his wife Francisca are at home directing farming operations while Laurence and Eira’s younger son Ben and his wife Natalie live in Hong Kong and recently joined the business.

“Their advice on doing business with China was invaluable,’’ says Laurence.

Crediton Dairy, one of the company’s processors, was instrumental in allowing Daioni to extend its reach into China. Systems were put in place to lengthen the shelf life of the milk drinks from the usual six months to the nine months Chinese importers require.

Daioni had previously dipped its toe in the export market with support from the Welsh Government but establishing a market in China was a significant milestone.

In 2011, the company exhibited at the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne and met a distributor from China.

“Initial discussions showed us just how highly the Chinese regard British products, particularly milk. They see it as a health drink,’’ says Laurence.

The company has set up offices in both Shanghai and Hong Kong, which are overseen by Ben.

“We supply all the Pret a Manger shops in Hong Kong with organic milk, and sell the flavoured milk in all the main retail outlets there,’’ says Laurence.

“We sell mainly white milk to mainland China and to the Philippines, with the whole range going to Vietnam, Singapore and the Middle East. We also sent our first container to Spain in 2017. I wait with interest to see how that develops.’’

Although diversification hasn’t been without its challenges, there is only one thing the family would change.

“We should have started the business 10 years sooner!’’ declares Eira.