Lismore ice cream factory reopens stronger than ever


Norco ice cream factory, one of the biggest employers in the Northern Rivers, has reopened its doors more resilient than ever.

Norco reopens in Lismore

Located in Lismore, Norco, which is a 100 per cent farmer-owned cooperative, was forced to close after suffering major damage in the February-March 2022 floods.

Norco CEO Michael Hampton said the factory was completely destroyed.

“A lot of the equipment had lifted up out of place, pushed through ceilings, pushed through walls, there was mud and mess everywhere, pallet racking had fallen over and collapsed,” he said.

“There was not much of this facility that was going to be salvageable and operational.”

Now, almost two years later, the factory has reopened its doors with 130 people back at work, and more employees to be hired in the coming months.

Mr Hampton said the reopening wouldn’t have been possible without the $34.7 million support funded through the Australian and NSW Government’s Anchor Business Support Grant Program.

“We really did need the help and assistance of the state and federal governments to be able to get this facility back up and running,” he said.

“Without the [Anchor Business Support] Program, we wouldn’t be standing here today in front of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.”

The work that’s been done on the factory has enabled it to have capacity to produce 42 million litres of ice cream now and into the future.

And the future of the company, which was founded in Lismore in 1895 – one of the oldest large businesses in the Northern Rivers – is now looking a lot brighter, said Mr Hampton.

“[Through the Anchor Business Support] Program], we have built in significant resilience measures,” he said.

“We’re the largest private employer in this region so we want to give confidence to the people that work here that we will be able to survive the next flood, and we believe that. Our engineering advice believes that as well.”

The funding has supported Norco to rebuild with a flood-proof design and technologies that have equipped the site to defend a 15-metre flood – higher than the 2022 levels.

“We’re going to have more investment and more capabilities and production formats so we can have this particular site as an epicentre of economic activity to service the region and to help this community rebuild.”Norco CEO Michael Hampton.

Some of these rebuilding measures include:

  • Positioning expensive specialised equipment like switch boards 15 metres above ground.
  • Installing quick release capabilities to items such as pumps so they can be moved easily.
  • Installing two mezzanines to allow staff to lift pallets of equipment greater than 15 metres high.
  • Installing nib walls to protect equipment that cannot be moved.
  • Installing additional sumps and pumps within the flood barriers to deal with any water leaks.
  • Implementing a four-stage flood management plan that is reviewed and practised regularly to ensure best practice and safe evacuation procedures.
  • Installing infrastructure to detect unprecedented disaster events, such as fires.

With these measures in place, Mr Hampton said when it does flood again, even at the 2022 levels, they’ll be able to get back up and running within weeks rather than years, giving him confidence to invest in its future.

“We’re going to continue to invest in this site,” he said.

“We’re going to have more investment and more capabilities and production formats so we can have this particular site as an epicentre of economic activity to service the region and to help this community rebuild.”

About a 10-minute drive from Lismore, Andrew Wilson, 55, owns a farm in Woodlawn that milks about 300 predominantly black and white Friesian cows year-round.

Located on 354 acres, Mr Wilson produces about two million litres of milk for the Norco Cooperative per year and was happy to see the factory reopen its doors recently.

“In February 2022, we had one of the biggest floods in my memory and in my whole family’s history,” he said.

“It was two metres higher than anything we’d ever seen. [It] liquified the paddocks and the herd health was terrible.

“It was a pretty hard year.”

As an income stream, not only was the Australian and NSW Government’s funding to support rebuild the ice cream factory welcomed by Mr Wilson, he said it was also a big boost to the local community.

“It gave them a lot of hope and the Lismore community really needed that at that stage,” he said.

“From a community level I thought that it was really important that that funding came through to help the community get their spirits lifted because everyone was in a pretty dark place at that stage.”

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