Following an announcement last week, it seems that the Snowcream facility at the Glenville site adjacent to Ardkeen is to cease as a milk processing and packaging plant. A ten week notice was issued to its staff of nearly fifty employees. The facility has been located here for close to fifty years and during all this period has been a key player in the agri-food business and in the process has provided significant employment on and off-site. It is with regret that I note these changes, particularly as I wrote its story (for the first time ever, I understand) some eight years ago – November 2000. It remains one of my favourite pieces and I reproduce it this week in tribute to its founders, many staff, suppliers and in so doing record its contribution to the commercial/agricultural life of Waterford.
Waterford’s Milky Way
The late forties/early fifties were bleak times here in Ireland and a period not immediately associated with enterprise and commercial foresight yet it was during these years, here in Waterford, that two of its best known companies were establish i.e. Waterford Glass and Snowcream.
Two different traditions of skill and processes and indeed, background, one resonant of the urban industrial, the other of rural pastures yet both sought to enhance different natural products. Through modern production skills and business acumen, they were years ahead of their time with both sharing a common aim, to produce a quality product. Waterford Glass/Crystal went on, of course, to become an international brand name and its story is well documented. Snowcream too is proud of its success story in the agri-business world of milk production which reflects well on the shrewd foresight and enterprise of its founder. I suppose a glass of milk would be an appropriate toast.
It is with some trepidation that a townie like me delves into the world of milk, quotas, shorthorns and jerseys, yields and wondrous things like lactation periods. Milk to me is a liquid, it’s white, supplies calcium, comes in a carton ( from Snowcream, of course) and is consumed with my muesli and I like it! But the journey from cow to cereal bowl as a quality palatable product involves a remarkable logistical achievement which can all too easily be taken for granted.
The Snowcream success story began back in 1952 and their first depot and offices were at Thomas Hill, in the heart of Waterford City. It really had its genesis some while before that when the late Johnny Aylward met Kurt Kraus, then a refugee from war-torn Europe from which he was forced to flee. Kurt, who for many years has resided at Newtown, was a qualified refrigeration engineer, a rare skill in Ireland of that time. This chance encounter, in the People’s Park I am told, led to the establishment of Southern Refrigeration and Icecream Co. Ltd. Milk was an obvious raw material and brought them into contact with local dairy farmers. Hitherto, milk distribution had not been rationalised in any way and followed age-old patterns of direct selling by the farmers to shops, hotels, hospitals, even directly to houses.
So Snowcream was founded as a company to deal with farmers and to distribute milk in an organised and systematic fashion. Of course, a huge factor in bringing to an end to the old ways was the necessity to pasteurise milk. This was against the background of the scourge of TB. Unhygienic practices and the necessity to process out other impurities made a whole new approach essential. Together with Johnny Aylward and Kurt on that first pioneering board were fellow directors Dan Sheedy, Billy Kervick, Dick Tilson (Finance Officer) and law advisor Dr R Counahan.
After parts of Dublin, Waterford’s Snowcream was the first to introduce pasteurised milk long before it was compulsory to do so, indeed, pioneered other good practices long before they were the norm in their industry. With such an excellent foundation, it is little wonder the company continues to thrive today even though the company is now part of a huge conglomerate. ( please note that in the interest of history and perhaps irony, I’m sticking to my original text of Nov. 00).
A Mighty Man
Those who knew and worked with Johnny Aylward tell me that he was a remarkable and mighty man, a far sighted astute man, tough when necessary but always a gentleman and straight in his dealings and a considerate employer. The farmers naturally enough formed an Association of Waterford and District producers to deal collectively with the company, to negotiate prices, supply contracts and quality. A minute book of 1956 reveals regular business meetings of the board with such farmers as J. O’Neill, R Walsh ( son David still supplied from Crooke), Sean O’ Donovan (Kilcohan), David Veale (Dunhill) and Michael Hayes (Orchardstown).
The pasteurised bottled milk was not immediately taken to as there was a kind of suspicion of a natural product being processed, sort of being interfered with. The company had to carry out a comprehensive education programme to convince doubters of the benefits of pasteurisation and the dangers of untreated milk. In time, Snowcream got the message through and continued to prosper and expand their areas of supply and distribution.
Shorthorns constituted the bulk of the dairy herd but the Jersey cow was growing in popularity for its richer and creamier taste. Mrs. Richardson of Prospect in Kilcohan attracted a premium price for her milk from her prize Jersey herd.
Move To Glenville
Business grew to such an extent that a bigger depot and processing plant became essential. By 1961, the company had completed their move to the present site at Glenville. The ten acre site there had been acquired from Sir Ernest Geoff for £3,000,( I put a big exclamation mark at this point back in 2008 – imagine the price it would fetch today!!?).
Leo Dunne, who became well known as a soccer writer, joined the company in 1953 and worked as a cashier and graduated to being manager in 1970 and he remained with the company until his retirement in 1985. He surely must have witnessed great and exciting developments over his 32 years of service there and played no small part in its success story. Around the time of the move to Glenville, the Wexford Creamery became part of the company and later in the 60s, as did Snowcream Midlands at Moate ( the latter became detached at a later date). The year of 1973 saw the establishment of the Waterford Co-op of which Snowcream became a part. In 1988 that new enterprise became a PLC and 1997 brought further changes with a merger with Avonmore ( to put it at its simplest).
A new corporate image and branding came with the name GLANBIA in 1999. Big it seems is beautiful in this corporate age if one is to compete with the other big boys and trade internationally. Today (’00) Glanbia has 3 liquid milk plants, Drogheda, Ballytore (Co Kildare) strategically placed for the Dublin/North Leinster markets and then of course, Glenville, Dunmore Road, Waterford.
Production has grown by 50% at Glenville over the past 15 years with approximately 9 million gallons or 40 million litres being collected, processed and distributed throughout the entire South-East annually. The man in charge today (and still) is the charmingly efficient Liam Neville from West Waterford. Liam is very proud of his ultra-modern plant and speaks highly of his dedicated staff who carry on the proud tradition of the Snowcream name and of the loyal customer support for their products. These include full fat, low fat, skim milk, buttermilk and, of course, cream. The full fat milk would constitute 80% of the total output. Today, there is a total staff of 50 at Glenville. In former times, the company employed as many as 120, not counting independent agents known in the trade as “doorstep agents” who today still distribute up to 30% of production and thus a vital cog in the distribution system.
I toured the plant with interest and learned something about modern milk production, of the pasteurisation process, the introduction of the tetra- pak, of homogenisation in the 80s, of lactation periods and guarantee of quality and supply. I thank again those who so kindly assisted me in researching this article and salute the spirit and enterprise of those who built and developed Snowcream, those who maintained its high standards over the years, and its management of today who built further on these successes. Bainne, of course, simply means cow juice.
July 21 2008 – the production values today, I’m sure are still as vibrant and quality assured now as they were back in November 2000 when I first penned the above. But alas, if there isn’t a reprieve then we are set to lose a valued facility that became synonymous with Waterford itself.
Go Seachtain Eile, Slan.