140 years on and still going strong


World-famous for cheese rolls and in some cases rolled R’s, Southland is home to Fonterra Edendale – NZ’s longest running dairy manufacturing site.

Established in 1881, Edendale dairy factory commenced operations on the 18th of January 1882.

“140 years on and Edendale is still recognised as one of NZ’s top dairy processing sites. Recently Edendale took out the Best Big Site and Transformation Cups at Fonterra’s annual Best Site Cup awards,” says Richard Gray, Lower South Island Operations Manager.

Richard has been at Edendale for seven years and oversees operations for Edendale and Stirling.

“Edendale is an amazing site with awesome people. I often get consistent feedback around the quality culture on site. This is a result of how our teams come together, taking pride in their work environments and focus on delivering the highest quality products to the world.

“It takes a whole team to do this, from milk collection through operations as well as the support teams such as maintenance, utilities, environmental and the amenities team.

“Our Co-op recently shared our long-term strategy ‘Path to 2030’ and Edendale is certainly part of that future. The team is looking forward to celebrating 150 years of Edendale in 2032,” says Richard.

Home of NZ’s cheese industry

46 years on from his first day, Cheese Plant Manager, David Thwaites, is still living and breathing cheese and he now heads up the team at Edendale’s cheese plant.

“I was due to finish up school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I got offered the job at Edendale and started the very next day. I quickly grew a passion for crafting cheese, and learned you had to be fit with all of the manual handling,” says David.

“We worked hard and then we played hard. There were plenty of events – we were one big family and you just enjoyed each other’s company. Over the years we have produced many award-winning cheeses, which we are all proud of.

It takes a whole team to do this, from milk collection through operations as well as the support teams such as maintenance, utilities, environmental and the amenities team.

Richard Gray, Operations Manager, LOWER SOUTH ISLAND Fonterra

“If we look at the innovation over that time, key to cheese making has been consistency. The cheese when I started could at times be variable. Now it’s extremely consistent.

“Cheese is a living organism. And very much like my career, cheese matures over time. It starts off very mild and then you get it out to three or four years and our end-product is extremely tasty – which is a victory.”

Best office in the world

Bruce Leggett has been driving on Southland roads as a tanker operator at Edendale for 28 years.

“When I first started, we used to call our tankers ‘A Train’ as we would carry the milk in one truck. Thanks to technology that’s now a truck and trailer combo,” says Bruce.

“As a tanker operator your office is out on the road, so you get to see a lot of the country that you wouldn’t normally see. The scenery in the South changes daily. Some days it’s snow-capped hills and other days it’s a small rural town, and you think that would be a really cool place to live,” says Bruce.

“As a driver, it can be a bit lonely due to the shift work, but there is a lot to be said about having a team who drive the same roads as you. Back at site when we can all get together there is a lot of fun to be had and our depot team feel like family.”

“I’ve enjoyed every day on the road and will miss the views and friendship when I retire,” says Bruce.

Milk delivered by horse and cart

As a young guy, Paul Duffy, Fonterra farmer and Southland District Councillor worked at Seaward Downs, a neighbouring cheese factory before it merged with Edendale.

“One of my first memories of Edendale was seeing a farmer who lived on the fringe of Edendale dairy factory dropping off milk to site using a horse and cart,” says Paul.

“In the late 1960’s, we shut down production at Seaward Downs for the day and redirected all of our milk over to Edendale to go over and work there.”

“28 employees were working at the factory that day, at the time Edendale was a big employer in the local town. It’s a real success for it to still be a big employer, with now over 670 people involved in the site from transport to processing.

“On top of that, flow on industries and businesses have built up around it - like contractors and trucking companies – and there is no doubt, it has made a difference to the local economy right across Southland.”

“Everyone knows someone who works at the site, it’s a piece of history for the Edendale community. At the South East corner of the cheese plant, there’s still a window with a piece from the old factory built in 1936,” says Paul.

Generations of dairy farming in Southland

Gordon McKenzie is a Fonterra Farmer – his family are fourth generation dairy farmers in Southland. He grew up on a farm run by his grandfather and father at Seaward Downs.

“Back in the day, grandad and dad would drop milk off to the dairy site using a tank on our truck. The next generation down, my three brothers and I went into partnership to farm and now my three sons are involved. Like our family, there are a quite a few generations of dairy farmers in the region,” says Gordon.

“Initially not many saw the potential of dairy in Southland. I remember in my third year visiting Mystery Creek Fieldays back in 1992 we had to put up a map to show where all the dairy imports farmed. People thought that all we had down here was snow covered pastures and icebergs in Bluff harbour – and we’ve shown over the years that we can produce high quality milk.

“Edendale has put the rural towns surrounding it on the map. A couple of years ago we took our staff to visit the site, it blew me away. Wow, there’s been a lot of change, from starting off making cheese to milk powder and casein.

“You have modern technology to thank for that, now you have robotic forklifts – it has changed the way our milk is utilised, the team at Edendale create great products from it,” says Gordon.