Fonterra teams have scrambled to answer an emergency call from the US for a big supply of a specialised protein product for critically ill Covid-19 patients.
After racing to make the hydrolysate product at its specialist plant which was about to close down for the season, the big dairy company chartered an Air NZ 787 jet to fly the first batch - 24 metric tonnes - direct to Chicago to be used in a medical food formula for intubated Covid-19 patients.
The SoS from a long-time big American customer came as the only Fonterra processing site that makes the special whey protein hydrolysate, the Hautapu factory near Cambridge, was preparing to shut and most of its 220 staff either to take annual leave or start annual maintenance work.
Hydrolysate is a fast-absorbing whey protein used in high-protein beverages that are easy for patients to drink and is used to meet the nutritional needs of intubated patients.
Fonterra Hautapu and Tirau site operations manager Shane Harris said the total order, for 60 metric tonnes, was 15 per cent of Hautapu's normal total season production.
"And of course they wanted it yesterday. We have a great relationship with this American customer so the team across the business pulled out all stops. We're still making it now."
An order that would usually take two months to manufacture and distribute took just two weeks.
The Hautapu site is also working under Covid-19 restrictions.
Harris understood New York, badly hit by the virus, was a particular focus destination for the product.
"A lot of our people were involved in making this happen - not just at Hautapu. Sales and logistics and planning and manufacturing ... but it took the whole site to make it happen and at the end of the season."
Hautapu is the only Fonterra site that makes the high-value hydrolysate and the company's particular product in the category is the only one of its kind in the world, Harris said.
The product is exported as powder in 15kg bags. The 60 metric tonne order is 3960 15kg bags. The balance of the order is being shipped to the US. Production of the special protein will wind up within two weeks.
Harris said the customer, who Fonterra could not name for commercial reasons, bought a large part of Hautapu's annual hydrolysate production. The product was also sold to customers in Europe, Japan and the US.
The foundation of the Hautapu dairy processing site goes back more than 120 years.
The site is the headquarters of Fonterra's protein and cheese technical teams in New Zealand.
Hautapu specialises in high-value products including casein, whey protein concentrate, hydrolysate, lactoferrin, milk protein concentrate and lactose.
There are eight processing plants on the site which exports to Europe, Asia and the US.
The New Zealand market is a major destination for many of Hautapu's speciality cheeses, while the major export market is Japan.