The Slovenia Times

Dairy that made buying local a success story

The Institute for Nutritionism declares most innovative Slovenian products; pictured is cheese Dobra Misel made by dairy Planika.
Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Based in Kobarid in the north-west of the country, Mlekarna Planika is Slovenia's fourth largest dairy. What makes it special is that it sources all its milk locally, mostly from farms in the Alpine region of Posočje. Part of its success is that the farmers indirectly own the dairy through their cooperative.

"I can say Mlekarna Planika is special in Slovenia and perhaps in the wider region. We're located in an Alpine area where conditions for milk production are much tougher than elsewhere," the dairy's director Miran Božič told the STA in an interview.

Having served as commercial manager for nine years, he took over at the helm of the dairy in mid-2022 to succeed the long-serving director Anka Lipušček Miklavič on her retirement.

The dairy processes around seven million litres of milk a year. Buying locally means its output is now tied to the amount of milk produced by local farmers, most of them in the Posočje area as well as some from Cerkljansko to the east, where conditions for farming are just as hard.

The amount of the milk produced and processed is constant, varying only 3-5%, depending on the year. "The only exception was last year when the Tolmin area was hit by extreme drought," Božič says. This translated into 15% less milk.

Božič is upbeat about local farming prospects even though the area has seen farmers abandoning their trade or reducing their herds due to drought. Nevertheless, some young farmers are willing to increase their herds and invest.

However, farming will have to adapt to climate change. "There are solutions in farming sectors where irrigation or indoor production is possible. At high-altitude farms, meadows will certainly not be irrigated," Božič says. Instead, farmers will need to get fodder from some other areas nearby.

Mlekarna Planika runs its own farm in Bovec featuring 180 head of cattle, including 100 dairy cows. These are the main source of milk for its organic products - fresh milk, yoghurt and cheese.

As drought all but annihilated the hay yield last summer, the farm had to buy large quantities of fodder, sharing the fate of local farmers. "Since our farm is organic, we had to buy organic fodder, which is much more hard to get and much pricier," says Božič.

Mlekarna Planika, which also includes a dairy museum, is fully owned by the Tolmin agricultural cooperative, which is in turn owned by local farmers. This way the company is protected against a potential takeover.

Data from the AJPES agency for public records shows the dairy posted EUR 11.43 million in net sales revenue and EUR 407,490 in net profit in 2021, the last year for which audited data is available. The company has been successful even though it offers farmers higher prices for their milk than others.

The Kobarid dairy was founded in 1957 but after initially producing cheese and later yoghurt, it then became part of Kraš, the Zagreb-based food company, to produce powdered milk. After Slovenia and Croatia broke independent from the former Yugoslavia, Kraš Planika went bankrupt but farmers started a cooperative and in 1995 created a new company called Mlekarna Planika.

The dairy is best known for its fresh milk, the Tolminc cheese, which has a protected designation of origin, and its butter, which is yellow and has a unique taste and smell. "It's really something special," Božič told the newspaper Dnevnik in an interview run in October 2022.

"We're trying to use local ingredients and traditional procedures and recipes as much as possible," he said. As some examples he offered yoghurt laced with spruce tip syrup, a cheese with wild marjoram and a spread made of Tolmin cottage cheese, fresh cream, herbs and locally sourced smoked trout.

Its keffir with D3 vitamin won one of the innovative products of the year awards in 2022. Božič says this is a product of the Covid-19 time. "It's well known that vitamin D can help boost your immune system and that's the reason we developed this product," Božič told Dnevnik.

The dairy also cooperates with Michelin-starred chef Ana Roš and retailer Tuš in a line of products based on Roš's recipes and locally-sourced produce. One such is cottage cheese gnocchi with poppy seeds and tarragon made from Mlekarna Planika albumin cottage cheese.


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