NEW ZEALAND – French food group Danone unveiled a US$25 million upgrade and expansion of its Auckland infant formula blending, processing and packaging plant, effectively doubling its production capacity.

The upgrade cements New Zealand as a critical, strategic supply point for local and regional markets, Danone said.

Cyril Marniquet, New Zealand operations director for Danone Early Life Nutrition, said Australia continued to be the operation’s biggest export destination but that he was seeing growing demand for international products in other markets, including China.

“By doubling production capacity we’re better placed than ever before to meet on-going demand in key markets,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said New Zealand’s ability to sustainably produce high-quality, nutritious food for a growing global population was crucial for the country’s economic future.

“That means moving New Zealand’s primary sector higher up the value chain so we continue to deliver what international consumers demand.

But we must do so in way that is sustainable and leverages our competitive edge as quality food producers,” he said.

Danone has been granted approval by the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China to manufacture and export direct to China from the Auckland plant.

The company has also been granted with a Halal Licence from the New Zealand Islamic Development Trust.

“Both certifications are recognition of the stringent processes we undertake for food safety, quality, hygiene and manufacturing. Importantly, they open up exciting future trade opportunities,” the company said.

Since setting up in New Zealand four years ago, Danone has invested more than US$85m in New Zealand, it said.

Danone currently employs 450 people working in New Zealand processing operations, up from 300 in 2014.