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From concept to completion: U.S. dairy industry embarks on expansion projects

Editor’s note: Welcome to Plants in Progress, an addition to our ongoing coverage of new facilities and growth in the U.S. dairy sector. As the industry works to meet new demand, growth and expansion are inevitable. Here, we provide a glimpse into new cheese and dairy plants going up around the country — from initial groundbreaking to full operation, and everything in between! Please read on to learn more about these plants in progress.

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — The U.S. dairy industry continues to benefit from consumers who are eager to add dairy as part of a balanced diet. Demand for U.S. dairy also continues to build in emerging markets overseas.

With this in mind, several cheese and dairy manufacturers over the past couple of years have announced plans to break ground on new facilities in order to expand processing and packaging capacity as demand for their products continues to grow. These projects also reflect millions of dollars in investments in infrastructure, communities and local jobs.

As new plants are announced, companies across America also are embarking on expansions and upgrades to their existing plants, reflecting the ever-growing appetite for dairy and necessity of being on the cutting edge. (See related Agropur article in this issue.)

Read along as we take you behind the scenes of these projects across the country, from initial concept to groundbreaking to full operation.

A Vision

• Foremost Farms, Greenville, Michigan
Foremost Farms USA hopes to break ground in the coming weeks on the first phase of a multiyear endeavor, a 55,000-square-foot milk condensing facility in Greenville, Michigan.

Baraboo, Wisconsin-based Foremost Farms in November acquired the 96-acre parcel on Fitzner Road in the Greenville Industrial Park from the City of Greenville for $1.1 million.

This week, The Right Place Inc., in collaboration with the City of Greenville, Montcalm Economic Alliance (MEA), Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) and other state partners, announced that Foremost Farms will invest $57.9 million in the new site.

The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) approved a private activity bond inducement valued at up to $12 million in support of the project. Approval of the bond authorizing resolution is expected to take place at an upcoming MSF meeting. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is supporting the project with a $500,000 grant from its Food and Agriculture Investment Fund. The MEDC will consider incentive support for the project at a future date, according to Foremost Farms.

The company also is expected to receive a grant from Michigan Works!.

Once open, the plant will condense 3.2 million pounds of raw milk per day (roughly 386,000 gallons). The final product, condensed milk solids such as cream and skim milk, will be used at Foremost co-op facilities and strategic alliance partners around the Midwest for further processing into products such as cheese, butter and yogurt, Foremost Farms says.

At capacity, the plant will be able to condense up to 4 million pounds of raw milk per day. Future phases at the campus call for facilities to process up to 6-plus million pounds daily.

Foremost Farms officials say they hope this initial investment will spur the development of a large-scale dairy processing campus over the next several years. The company already is engaged in talks with companies interested in creating value-added production facilities on the campus to serve Foremost’s cooperative partners.

“Foremost Farms’ executive management and board of directors are very appreciative of MEDC, the city of Greenville, MDARD, MDOT, The Right Place, West Michigan Works! and Rep. Jim Lower along with all the other combined agencies in making this a reality to strategically build this facility in Greenville,” says Michael Doyle, president and CEO, Foremost Farms.

“It is an ideal location as a manufacturing base for Foremost Farms USA to unify our seven-state cooperative membership’s milk,” Doyle adds. “Our goal is to develop and grow this facility to continually meet the value-added needs of our customers. This, along with further developing our strategic alliance with Michigan Milk Producers Association that began at Constantine, Michigan, will add value for our members and all producers in this market.”

Foremost Farms says the announcement is expected to be well received by West Michigan dairy farmers, as this initial phase and the long-term campus concept are expected to provide a new distribution channel for milk produced in the region.

The new facility will provide area dairy farmers with a much-needed financial boost due to the current lack of available processing capacity in the state, Foremost Farms adds.

“The city of Greenville appreciates the opportunity to develop a relationship and subsequent partnership with Foremost Farms that is mutually beneficial for both the company and the community,” says George Bosanic, City Manager, City of Greenville.

Foremost Farms says it expects the first phase of the project to be operational before the end of the year. The first phase is expected to create 33 jobs.

• Joint venture, Michigan — Glanbia Nutritionals,

Dairy Farmers of America, Michigan Milk Producers Association Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) together are in discussions to create a stand-alone joint venture to build and operate a new cheese and whey production facility in the state of Michigan.

Foremost Farms USA also was part of the project when it originally was announced last year but since has dropped out. The project now is 50-percent owned by Glanbia, with the 50-percent balance owned by DFA and MMPA.

A site for the proposed facility has not yet been announced.

Upon project completion, which currently is estimated for 2020, the plant is projected to process 8 million pounds of milk per day.

“Michigan became the obvious choice. It boasts a diverse agricultural system, second only to California, with a strong milk supply,” says John Dardis, senior vice president of group sustainability and U.S. corporate affairs, Glanbia plc.

Dardis notes milk production in Michigan has been growing at a steady rate, with 7-percent growth in 2015 and approximately 6-percent growth in 2016, indicating there is supply there for a new plant.

The partners anticipate hiring about 200 employees upon project completion.

Breaking Ground

• Aurora Organic Dairy, Columbia, Missouri
Construction is underway at Aurora Organic Dairy’s new milk processing facility in Columbia, Missouri.

Aurora Organic Dairy is an integrated company that produces and processes organic milk products for distribution to grocery stores nationwide. The company is based in Boulder, Colorado.

“The decision to build (this) milk plant in Columbia culminates several years of research and diligence to determine the optimal location for a new processing operation,” says Marc Peperzak, founder and executive chairman, Aurora Organic Dairy. “Columbia was the best choice because it offers a location that expands and improves the efficiency of our total supply chain, from organic feed, to milk, to consumer.”

Peperzak adds that Central Missouri offers a great workforce and attractive access to interstate highways.

Aurora Organic Dairy plans to initially hire 100 people for the startup of the plant — expected in early 2019 — before growing that number to 150 jobs with an additional expansion in three years, the company says.

The first phase of the project encompasses approximately 127,000 square feet for a processing facility and cold storage warehouse, the company notes. Aurora Organic Dairy plans to process white fluid milk in various sizes, but primarily half-gallon cartons. The project is being financed internally, with approximately $100 million invested for the first phase.

Aurora Organic Dairy is committed to environmental stewardship, and it says it will incorporate efficient, environmentally friendly systems into the new plant. For example, the facility will use heat exchangers and low wattage lighting, as well as heavy-duty insulation to prevent HVAC loss. The facility also will recycle excess materials and packaging, and invest in water reuse and reduction activities.

• Great Lakes Cheese, Wausau, Wisconsin
Great Lakes Cheese currently is building a new $55 million state-of-the-art cheese packaging plant in Wausau, Wisconsin.

As part of an agreement with the City of Wausau, the city is contributing $5.9 million in tax incentives in the form of a 10-year reverse tax increment financing to help offset building costs.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) also is supporting the project by providing up to $2 million in state income tax credits over the next four years. The actual amount of tax credits awarded will be contingent upon the number of jobs created and the amount of capital investment made by the company over that period.

“With more than 1,000 employees at four facilities in Wisconsin, Great Lakes Cheese is an important contributor to the state’s internationally acclaimed cheese and dairy industry,” says Tricia Braun, deputy secretary and COO, WEDC. “WEDC is proud to support Great Lakes’ expansion and thanks the company for its continued commitment to growing in Wisconsin.”

Rachel Bisbee, communications manager, Great Lakes Cheese, notes that in addition to the $55 million project cost, Great Lakes Cheese also has committed to invest $28 million in equipment in the new facility.

The company currently has a plant in Wausau with 200 employees and will be adding an additional 125 to that number over the next two to three years, Bisbee says.

Movement of equipment and workers from the existing facility to the new plant will be completed in 2019, Bisbee says, noting that upon project completion, the existing Wausau facility will be donated to the city.

“We are grateful that we can remain in Wausau because we have a strong commitment to our employees here,” says Matt Wilkinson, project manager, Great Lakes Cheese.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new plant was held in late July 2017. The facility will package Great Lakes Cheese’s precut deli and specialty cheese products and snack cheeses.

• Kalona Creamery, Kalona, Iowa

Kalona Creamery is in the process of phase two of a project at its Kalona, Iowa, facility to begin making cheese curds by the end of 2018.

Kalona Creamery last year held a grand opening celebration for its new Kalona Creamery Shop & Deli, the first phase of the project. Construction currently is underway on phase two, while the company in the future will embark on a third phase of the project to manufacture hard and soft cheeses.

Kalona Creamery is a member of the Open Gates Group, an entrepreneurial family of companies in the Kalona, Iowa, area. Open Gates Group oversees and manages the family of companies and provides them with accounting, business development, human resources, training and marketing support. Each business is operated by a managing partner who manages the day-to-day duties and ensures the company’s success.

Kalona Creamery in 2015 purchased the site of its new facility, which formerly housed Twin County Dairy. Twin County Dairy was shuttered in 2014, and Kalona Creamery took the initiative to bring the facility back to life with the idea of focusing on specialty, small-scale operations.

“The previous operations ran into a significant amount of EPA and DNR challenges,” says Sara Rissi, marketing manager, Open Gates Group.

“Our goal is to shift to specialty, small scale operations in order to comply with local and federal requirements. Also, the facility was quite dated, and we are spending significant dollars to bring it up to modern food quality standards.”

Kalona Creamery expects to begin making its own cheese curds at the facility by the end of 2018. It also plans to hire approximately 10 employees over the next few years, Rissi says.

• Looking Glass Creamery, Columbus, North Carolina

After breaking ground last summer, Looking Glass Creamery is putting the finishing touches on its new facility in Columbus, North Carolina.

The project includes a new 2,100-square-foot creamery, featuring a packaging area, bulk tank room, caramel room, mechanical room, employee area and hallway. The main production floor is about 900 square feet, says Jennifer Perkins, who co-owns Looking Glass Creamery with her husband, Andy.

Perkins says the project also includes new underground cheese caves encompassing 1,300 square feet. The caves will have four chambers — one brine and three aging caves.

“The caves are engineered to hold 3 feet of dirt on the roof acting as insulation, and that will hopefully cut our energy consumption to operate our caves at the optimal temps,” Perkins says.

“There are two large viewing windows under the front porch where visitors can come and watch the cheesemaking process.”

The project is made possible in part from a construction loan from Natural Capital Investment Fund, Perkins says. The plant is being built on Harmon Dairy, a second-generation cow dairy run by brothers Doug and Alan Harmon. The brothers will continue to own and operate the dairy until the new creamery is operational. Alan Harmon has agreed to stay on working within the dairy once Looking Glass Creamery takes over, Perkins says. Doug Harmon will consult on pasture management but will not be involved in daily operations of the dairy.

Perkins says project completion currently is slated for late March with production to begin in April.

The creamery will manufacture Cheddar, washed rind, Blue and alpine-style cheeses as well as a dulce de leche caramel sauce and ice cream.

Approximately eight additional jobs will be created in the first couple of years.

• Masters Gallery Foods, Oostburg, Wisconsin

Masters Gallery Foods Inc. is nearing completion on construction of its new 175,000-square-foot packaging and distribution facility in Oostburg, Wisconsin.
The company broke ground on the project last summer, with target occupancy and operation slated for this April.
“We chose the Oostburg location for its proximity to our corporate headquarters (in Plymouth, Wisconsin) and the multi-generational workforce that has familiarity to the dairy industry,” says Masters Gallery Foods Vice President of Operations Mark Grasse, noting the company expects to add 150 new full-time positions in its first year of operation.
Grasse notes the building will not be cooled by ammonia but rather an environmental chilling system boosted by geo-thermal off-peak cooling.
The new facility will be a natural cheese conversion plant producing 8-ounce to 5-pound shreds and slices at start-up for retail and foodservice accounts, Grasse says.
The location also has room to allow for up to two additional future expansions, company officials say.

• WNY Cheese Enterprise LLC, Pavilion, New York — Dairy Farmers of America, Arla Foods, Craigs Station Creamery

Cheese production at the new WNY Cheese Enterprise LLC facility in Pavilion, New York, is expected to begin in the first half of 2018, says Doug Glade, executive vice president of commercial operations for Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), majority stake owner of the project.

Construction on the plant is underway, and it is expected to be about 29,000 total square feet upon completion, including an 8,000-square-foot wastewater reclamation facility, Glade says.

The joint partnership is 70 percent owned by DFA, 20 percent by Arla Foods and 10 percent by DFA’s eight farmer owners of Craigs Station Creamery. DFA holds the management role in the partnership, Arla will market cheese from the facility, and the farmers with Craigs Station Creamery will supply the milk, Glade says.

“The Craigs Station facility, which is built on an actual farm, really led to this phase two partnership with DFA’s eight farmer owners in western New York,” he says. “This partnership is an example of how DFA looks for opportunities to increase demand for dairy while also meeting the needs of the marketplace.”

The plant — which is adjacent to Craigs Station Creamery ­­— will produce high-quality, premium New York Cheddar initially and will explore the possibility of producing other premium dairy products in the future, Glade says.

“Consumers want to know who produces their food, and they want to know that it was produced in a sustainable way, which is what Craigs Station Creamery is all about,” says Chris Noble, vice president of Noblehurst Farms and a partner in Craigs Station. “We thought the timing was right to bring that same transparency message to a high-quality, premium Cheddar cheese produced right here in New York.”

Glade notes there is a great renewable energy story as Craigs Station Creamery utilizes not only solar panels but also a methane digester, which will help power the plant as well as the plant’s wastewater facility. In addition, the close proximity of the farm to the plant allows for a minimal carbon footprint in the hauling and transporting of milk.

At the plant’s full capacity, stakeholders anticipate hiring 32 full-time employees, Glade says. Once complete, the plant is projected to produce about 15.5 million pounds of cheese annually.

Up and Running

• Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Petaluma, California

Cheese production began earlier this year at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.’s new production and distribution facility in Petaluma, California.

The new facility in Sonoma County is 22 miles east of the company’s headquarters in Point Reyes and houses a second creamery and aging warehouse as well as a distribution center.

Total square footage is 21,000, which includes production, aging and warehouse space and a small office area.

Jill Giacomini Basch, chief marketing officer, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, says market demand for the company’s award-winning cheeses had outgrown supply capacity at its original site.

“If we were going to grow, we needed more production capacity and aging space, and we didn’t have room on the farm,” she says.

She notes the company’s headquarters is in a more rural area, so the strategic decision was made to build the new facility in a more suburban/urban marketplace.

The new site, about 30 minutes away, is near the Highway 101 corridor, closer to where many of the company’s employees live, Basch says.

“We’re really excited to now be a part of the Sonoma County business community, which is increasingly becoming a hub for specialty cheese and craft beer production ” Basch says.

Point Reyes has moved all of its pasteurized production to the new site, which, by late spring, also will house the company’s packaging and distribution.

“We’re currently taking milk from our farm and trucking it out to the new facility, then trucking excess whey back to the farm to be used in animal feed,” Basch says.

Cheeses produced at the new plant include Point Reyes’ entire pasteurized line including Toma, Bay Blue and Gouda. The company’s raw milk flagship, Original Blue, still is made at the farm location, Basch notes.

She adds that while new equipment at the plant has created additional production efficiencies, Point Reyes is hiring additional employees for the new location.

• Saputo Cheese USA, Almena, Wisconsin

Blue cheese production is underway at Saputo Cheese USA’s revamped facility in Almena, Wisconsin. The plant recently underwent a state-of-the-art expansion and modernization for Blue cheese production, adding 238,857 square feet to the facility.

“Almena is a key facility for our operations, and the modernization project will allow us to capitalize on the resident product knowledge and expertise that already exists at the plant,” says Terry Brockman, president and chief operating officer, Saputo Cheese USA. “Modernizing our Blue cheese manufacturing process in Almena will improve our production capabilities and allow us to incorporate curing and packaging into one site.”

While Blue cheese is currently the product focus at the plant, Brockman says the company is constantly evaluating its product mix to meet consumer needs.

With the modernization project, the company has hired additional employees and retrained its current staff in order to support the new manufacturing processes in place, he notes.

Brockman adds Saputo Cheese considered sustainability and various environmental aspects as it developed blueprints and throughout construction.

“With the project being located at our existing facility in Almena, Wisconsin, we expanded our business opportunities in the community, created jobs and allowed the community to grow,” he says. “The building and process were designed for efficient flow of product between hygiene zones with designated employee traffic patterns to minimize health and safety concerns.”

Saputo Cheese expects the project to be fully complete by the end of 2018.

• Winona Foods, Howard, Wisconsin

Winona Foods’ new $30 million redistribution and cheese converting facility in Howard, Wisconsin, is now up and running. The 187,000-square foot facility — with room for additional growth — was announced early last year and completed in the beginning of February.

The redistribution center includes manufacturing for shreds, slices, cubes, dice and chunked cheeses. The company chose Howard because it was located close to its corporate headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and allows access to the valuable labor force in the Howard/Suamico area, as well as rail site availability, says Nate Meyer, marketing manager, Winona Foods.

Meyer notes Winona Foods used the “green building” approach in its construction. Green building is the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources — such as energy, water and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment throughout “the complete building life cycle” including better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance and removal, he says.

“We are excited to open this new facility,” says Terry Steinmann, president, Winona Foods.

“Winona Foods is extremely proud of our growth over the past 22 years, and we expect this new plant will complement our suppliers and customers.”

The facility is bringing at least 120 jobs to the area, the company notes.

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Do you have a new cheese or dairy plant in the works?
Let us know, and your company could be featured in the next installment of Plants in Progress!
Please contact Alyssa Mitchell at 608/288-9090 or email amitchell@cheesemarketnews.com with the details.

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