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Dairy plant projects across U.S. bright spot for growth

Editor’s note: Plants in Progress is 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!

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — With ongoing uncertainty over tariffs and trade wars, U.S. consumers’ appetite for cheese and dairy products continues to be a bright spot for U.S. manufacturers.

New cheese and dairy operations are sprouting up across the country — from the heart of America’s Dairyland in Wisconsin, to the Great Lakes region of Michigan and beyond to the coastal areas of North Carolina and Virginia.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Center for Dairy Excellence last year commissioned leading dairy economists to conduct a yearlong study to evaluate opportunities to grow Pennsylvania’s dairy industry. They found that an investment in additional dairy processing capacity in the state could generate $34.7 million annually in combined revenue generation and cost savings.

“Looking ahead, with continued growth in cheese demand within and outside the United States, I expect cheese production capacity to continue to be added, both by existing companies and new entrants,” says Mike McCully, owner of The McCully Group LLC, New Buffalo, Michigan, in a recent guest column for Cheese Market News.

Please read on to learn more about these plants in progress ...

• Aurora Organic Dairy, Columbia, Missouri
Construction commenced earlier this year 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.

Marc Peperzak, founder and executive chairman, Aurora Organic Dairy, notes Columbia was the best choice because it offers a location that expands and improves the efficiency of Aurora Organic Dairy’s total supply chain, from organic feed, to milk, to consumer.

The first phase of the project encompasses approximately 127,000 square feet for a processing facility and cold storage warehouse. 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.

“The progress is going well and is on schedule for an early 2019 opening date,” says Sonja Tuitele, director of communications, Aurora Organic Dairy.

Tuitele says the company is about 95 percent finished with the structure of the plant and has all the equipment in the facility.

“We will be commissioning and testing the equipment as part of the start-up process between now and when we open,” Tuitele says. “We have hired about 42 employees at the new facility and expect to have between 50-55 employees when the plant opens early next year.”

• BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Glenville, New York
Earlier this year, BelGioioso Cheese Inc., headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, announced plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Glenville, Schenectady County, New York, creating 46 new jobs and retaining 31 local employees. To help secure this new investment for New York State, Empire State Development (ESD) agreed to provide up to $850,000 in performance-based Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits.

BelGioioso Cheese signed a contract with Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority to purchase 40 acres at the Glenville Business and Technology Park, where it will build the plant.

“We plan to build a 100,000-square-foot production facility at the Glenville Business and Technology Park that will manufacture Fresh Mozzarella and other cheese products,” says Errico Auricchio, BelGioioso Cheese founder and owner. “The plant represents a $25 million investment by the company, and we plan to add nearly 50 new jobs as we increase production capacity. We have been working closely with Schenectady County Metroplex and with Empire State Development to bring this new facility to New York state.”

According to Jamie Wichlacz, marketing public relations manager for BelGioioso Cheese, construction on the new plant has not yet started and an exact start date has not yet been set.

• Foremost Farms USA, Greenville, Michigan
Foremost Farms USA this year broke ground 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 2017 acquired the 96-acre parcel on Fitzner Road in the Greenville Industrial Park from the City of Greenville for $1.1 million.

Foremost Farms is investing $57.9 million in the new site.

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 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+ 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.

“It is an ideal location as a manufacturing base for Foremost Farms USA to unify our seven-state cooperative membership’s milk,” says Michael Doyle, president and CEO, Foremost Farms. “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.”

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.

Construction at Greenville is on time and on budget, says Sydney Lindner, director of communications, Foremost Farms.

Lindner notes raw milk silos are installed, intake bays are ready, and the reverse osmosis system, water polishing system and many other plant areas are complete.

“We expect to receive our first milk truckload well before the end of the year,” she says. “The new Greenville milk processing plant will help us separate milk solids, lower our transportation and ingredient costs, and allow us to attract strategic partners.”

• Golfo di Napoli Dairy, Warren, Indiana
Golfo di Napoli Dairy recently announced plans to locate a commercial organic cheese plant in Huntington County, Indiana, creating up to 35 new jobs by 2021.

“Indiana’s agriculture industry supports approximately 107,500 jobs, providing opportunities for Hoosiers and their families across the state,” says Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who also serves as the state’s secretary of agriculture. “With nearly 1,000 Hoosier dairies and 26 dairy processing plants, Golfo di Napoli Dairy will have quick and plentiful access to fresh milk, making Indiana the perfect fit for its first U.S. production facility.”

Golfo di Napoli Dairy, a newly-established venture, will be owned and operated by a team of fourth-generation cheese producers from Italy. The company plans to invest $9.5 million to establish the plant, constructing an approximately 30,000-square-foot plant on a 40-acre site in Warren, Indiana. The plant, which will utilize USDA-certified organic milk from Fair Oaks Farms, will produce Mozzarella, Burrata, Ricotta, Provolone and other pasta filata cheeses traditional to the Naples region.

“We chose Indiana because we believe that it is the perfect location to produce authentic Neapolitan Mozzarella, serving customers across the Midwest,” said Antonio Somma, president of Golfo di Napoli Dairy. “This facility and our partnership with Fair Oaks Farm will allow us to expand our cheese production expertise to the U.S.”

The company acquired the land earlier this year and construction began Sept. 26. Golfo di Napoli Dairy expects to begin hiring for the new facility before the end of 2018 in order to begin production in February 2019.

• 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. The 180,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in January 2019.

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.

This summer, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced that Great Lakes Cheese received a $500,000 state grant that will assist the company in training workers for the facility.

“As companies like Great Lakes Cheese continue to grow in Wisconsin, it’s imperative that we help those businesses find ways to ensure that their workers receive the training needed to compete in our ever-changing economy,” Walker says. “We applaud Great Lakes Cheese for not only investing in our state, but for investing in its workers.”

Great Lakes Cheese is receiving the $500,000 Workforce Training Grant from WEDC to train employees on the new equipment and processes at the new facility. The company is matching the state’s investment for training.

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 July 2017. The facility will package Great Lakes Cheese’s precut deli and specialty cheese products and snack cheeses.

• Joint venture, St. Johns, Michigan — Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America, Select Milk Producers
Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Select Milk Producers Inc. recently announced that they have, subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions, selected the City of St. Johns, Michigan, as the preferred location for their new joint venture large-scale cheese and whey production facility for the state of Michigan, which is now expected to be commissioned in the fourth quarter of 2020 at a cost of $470 million.

The new facility will process 8 million pounds of milk per day into a range of cheese (300 million pounds per year) and whey products for U.S. and international markets, employing approximately 250 staff when in full production. In addition, the partners confirm that an agreement has been reached with Proliant Dairy Ingredients to process whey permeate. Proliant will invest $85 million in an adjoining facility, creating up to 38 jobs.

The preferred site in St. Johns meets key selection criteria in terms of strategic location relative to milk supply, strong transport links, a positive business environment and labor availability, the partners say.

The partners have engaged with state and city officials as well as community leaders to address issues such as cost, infrastructure and planning in order to finalize the decision. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. also recently approved a package of incentives that address these areas.

“The finalization of the preferred location is a critical step on our journey to deliver a new ultra-modern dairy facility in Michigan,” says Brian Phelan, CEO of Glanbia Nutritionals. “We want to thank the state and city authorities for their continued support as we move to commence construction as soon as possible.”

“The construction of this plant in St. Johns will not only address a growing industry need for Michigan plant capacity, but it also adds value and supports our local dairy farm families in this area,” adds Greg Wickham, CFO at DFA.

• Kalona Creamery, Kalona, Iowa
Kalona Creamery recently completed phase two of a project at its Kalona, Iowa, facility to begin making cheese curds.

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

In addition to cheese curds, the company services house-made ice cream, sells hand-rolled butter and offers a lunch deli window.

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 facility now is up and running with fresh cheese curds. The company started selling them with a launch party Aug. 23, 2018.

“Currently we’re producing our fresh, squeaky cheese curds on Tuesdays and Fridays, including larger batches for local community events like Kalona Fall Festival,” says Emily Miles, digital marketing specialist, Open Gates Group. “We even have Iowa Hawkeye inspired labels we use on our cheese curd bags on Fridays before Iowa Hawkeye home games.”

• Looking Glass Creamery, Fairview, North Carolina
After breaking ground in summer 2017, Looking Glass Creamery recently completed its new facility in Fairview, 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.

“While construction took longer than expected by several months, we self contracted the construction and came in on budget. All the equipment is in place including a new horizontal cheese press from Fromagex, micro-perforated molds and a 600-gallon Double O cheese vat from Van Riet,” 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. Perkins notes the four cellars are all up and running.

“The refrigeration and airflow seem good so far. We have a twin boiler system and an icebank to heat and cool the milk within one hour or less — this is working well,” she says.

Looking Glass Creamery made its first batch in the new facility Aug. 10, and is slowly filling up the caves, hoping to have increased capacity for sales and distribution for some of its cheeses in another month or so, Perkins adds.

On the farm front, the company is migrating to seasonal dairying with its first dry period starting January 2020, Perkins notes.

“We are working with the local Soil & Water board and North Carolina Department of Ag to develop a more intensive rotational grazing system for the pastures,” she says.

• Masters Gallery Foods, Oostburg, Wisconsin
Masters Gallery Foods Inc. earlier this year completed construction on its new 175,000-square-foot packaging and distribution facility in Oostburg, Wisconsin.

The company broke ground on the project in summer 2017, and the plant has been operational since June, with three lines running. More line installs are scheduled throughout the first half of 2019, says Jeff Gentine, president and CEO, Masters Gallery Foods.

The new facility is a natural cheese conversion plant currently producing 8-ounce to 5-pound shreds and slices for retail and foodservice accounts.

The location also has room to allow for up to two additional future expansions, company officials say.

“Volume is very strong, especially with the retail holiday season upon us. Hiring in Sheboygan County remains our biggest challenge, but we are getting close to filling the last 30-plus open positions,” Gentine says.

• Richlands Creamery LLC, Blackstone, Virginia
Richlands Creamery LLC is investing $1.7 million in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, to create a new commercial creamery and 17 new jobs over the next three years.

The new creamery will be located at Richlands Dairy Farm, a commercial dairy and agritourism destination near the town of Blackstone, Virginia. As part of this project, Richlands Creamery is committing to purchasing 100 percent of its agricultural inputs from Virginia farmers, totaling nearly $1 million.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services worked with Dinwiddie County to secure this project for Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam approved a $20,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund, which Dinwiddie County will match with local funds.

“We are so grateful to receive an AFID grant for Richlands Creamery. This grant will allow us to build a milk processing facility with a retail store front to bottle and direct market milk and the best tasting ice cream in Virginia,” says Coley Jones Drinkwater, president of Richlands Creamery. “This, in turn, will keep us from joining the mass exodus of dairy farms across the United States and preserve rural Virginia for all Commonwealth residents and visitors to enjoy during our various agritourism events throughout the year.”

Drinkwater notes the project currently is in the building phase.

“We should be installing equipment by November, and, if all goes well, we will be open at the start of the year,” Drinkwater says.

• University of Wisconsin-Madison Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wisconsin
Ground has been broken on a long-anticipated renovation of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UW) Babcock Hall and the Center for Dairy Research (CDR).

The new $47 million renovation of Babcock Dairy Hall and a new, three-story addition to CDR is being made possible with funding from donors, the state of Wisconsin and UW-Madison. Donors, primarily from Wisconsin’s cheese industry, raised more than $18 million to support the project.

Rebecca Blank, UW-Madison chancellor, says the facility will be one of the premier dairy education and research centers in the nation.

“Most importantly, it’s going to be a hub for discovery and innovation for Wisconsin’s dairy industry, working closely with our faculty and students,” she says.

The project is being conducted in three phases. Phase one, currently underway, includes constructing a new loading dock and milk receiving bay. The demolition of Science House, which took place in early August, also was part of the first phase.

Phase two, anticipated to start in early 2019, involves the construction of the CDR addition. The third phase is the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant renovation, which is expected to begin in early 2020. Projection completion is slated for later in 2020.

The renovation will modernize the dairy plant, adding a new ice cream maker, more freezer and cooler space, an improved raw milk receiving bay, and new piping, pumps and valves to more efficiently move milk and milk products around the plant.

The Babcock Hall Dairy Plant serves as a laboratory and learning facility for students, university researchers and industry personnel. It is utilized for product testing and recipe development, as well as professional training through short courses, college instruction and research projects.

John Lucey, CDR director, says the project will allow for expanded production of specialty cheese, with nine individual ripening rooms, new cheese vats and other equipment.

The entire square footage of the entire project — including the renovation and addition — is around 77,400 square feet.

The architectural plan for the project was developed with the support of a design team including representatives from UW-Madison, industry groups and the state Division of Facilities Development working with vendor Zimmerman Architectural Studios.

The general contractor of the project is C.D. Smith Construction Inc., Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

• WNY Cheese Enterprise LLC, Pavilion, New York — Dairy Farmers of America, Arla Foods, Craigs Station Creamery
Construction is in progress on a new WNY Cheese Enterprise LLC facility in Pavilion, New York.
Once complete, the facility is expected to be about 29,000 total square feet, including an 8,000-square-foot wastewater reclamation facility, says Doug Glade, executive vice president of commercial operations for Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), majority stake owner in the project.

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.

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.

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