The possible sale of Westland Milk Products to Yili comes as Yili is ramping up expansion at its Morven plant in South Canterbury.

From next month, worker buses will start running daily from Timaru and Oamaru as Oceania undergoes further expansion which is predicted to increase staff numbers at the plant from 300 to close to 400.

Oceania's interim manager Richard Hickson said providing staff buses was a way to attract local staff.

''Our policy is to attract as many local people as possible. Hopefully it will allow us to tap into the Timaru market.


''Positions available will be across the board - engineering, IT roles, process control, management, laboratory, supervisor roles, HR roles, administration and roles that are highly technical.''

Work would start soon on building an ultra-high-temperature (UHT) milk-processing plant and new dry store, loading facilities and service utilities and, in July, work would begin on a new laboratory.

Reports have stated at least $200million would be invested in the state-of-the art laboratory.

Hickson said the laboratory would employ 40 to 50 staff. It would carry out all in-process quality checks and most of the final product grading and testing.

In its resource consent application, Oceania said it was positioned to capitalise on the growing demand for milk products.

The Morven plant produces a range of milk powders, from standard whole milk powders to specialty powders and infant formula.

Yili acquired Oceania in 2013. Since then, it has invested about $650million in establishing milk powder, infant formula and UHT production lines.

In recent years, its supplying farmers have had a higher payout than the average in the industry.