Dairy companies continue to grow, expand despite pandemic

Editor’s note: Plants in Progress is a special segment spotlighting new facilities and expansion 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 and expansions across the country — from initial groundbreaking to full operation, and everything in between.

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — It’s been a challenging year, and the dairy industry has faced some uphill battles with unprecedented market volatility and supply and demand challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic. However, consumers still are hungry for dairy protein to meet their needs at nearly every meal, and especially snacking occasions.

In the face of market challenges, cheese and dairy companies continue to grow and expand. From new cheese varieties to increased demand for dairy ingredients, the hunger for dairy proteins means companies are able to continue to invest and expand to feed a hungry nation and world. One plant in Wisconsin is reconstructing after a fire earlier this year, another on the West Coast is building a brand new facility for dairy ingredients, while one in New York is ramping up new aseptic packaging capabilities for extended-shelf-life products.

That’s only a sampling of the various investments and building projects featured in our special section as we provide a snapshot of dairy industry growth from coast to coast.

Please read on for more in this latest installment of Plants in Progress ...

• BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Glenville, New York

BelGioioso Cheese earlier this year completed construction on a $25 million cheese plant in the Glenville Business and Technology Park in Glenville, New York.

BelGioioso Cheese has operated in the Schenectady County area since purchasing the Cappiello local dairy plant in 2011. Now, the Wisconsin-based company is expanding its New York production with the new 100,000-square-foot cheese manufacturing plant in Glenville.

This summer, BelGioioso produced its first vat of cheese at the plant. Going forward, the Glenville site will produce a variety of products from BelGioioso’s national and international award-winning portfolio of more than 30 cheese varieties. The company also plans to add nearly 50 new jobs as it increases production capacity.

• Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Grantsburg, Wisconsin

Burnett Dairy Cooperative is rebuilding a section of its plant in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, after a fire earlier this year damaged its historic Wood River Creamery building.

Stephanie Miller, marketing manager, Burnett Dairy, says the co-op welcomed the first milk hauler back this week.

“All systems have been tested with water, but today (Sept. 15) will be the first test with milk,” Miller says. “Depending on the problems we encounter, we hope to continue to increase production throughout the next few weeks until we are back to full production volume.”


Photo courtesy of Byrne Dairy
ASEPTIC PACKAGING — Byrne Dairy is expanding its facility in East Syracuse, New York, to ramp up its offerings of aseptic milk packaging. Pictured above is the Tetra Brik Aseptic Edge Light Cap 30, one of two aseptic filling lines the company is adding with this project.

Miller notes that while Burnett’s loaf and shred lines will be operational, the String packaging lines will not be ready for another three to four weeks. All of the work to date has concentrated on getting the co-op back up and producing for its customers, she says.

“In terms of the long-term goals of the plant, we will be making improvements with a timeline of 18 to 24 months,” Miller adds, noting specifics on changes to the plant are not yet available.

• Byrne Dairy, East Syracuse, New York

Byrne Dairy is expanding its plant in East Syracuse, New York, by 22,000 square feet to add two aseptic filling lines, making it the first dairy in central New York to package milk in aseptic packaging, says Carl Byrne, president, Byrne Dairy.

The $20 million expansion will allow for packages from 8 to 32 ounces that are shelf stable and will last up to a year without refrigeration, Byrne says, noting adding aseptic processing is the next logical step for the company as consumers increasingly want products with a longer shelf life. The product also can be shipped overseas.

As part of the project, Byrne Dairy is adding four 10,000-gallon sterile tanks, a new valve group and ultra-high-temperature milk sterilizers.

The project is slated for completion in early 2021, with the first filler to come online by the spring. The project will create 64 new full-time positions at Byrne Dairy.

Photo courtesy of Dairy Farmers of America
RAMPING UP IN ZUMBROTA — Dairy Farmers of America in July started construction on an expansion to its cheese and dairy powders plant in Zumbrota, Minnesota. With the 86,000-square-foot plant addition, the facility will produce an additional 7.5 million pounds of product per year, DFA says.

• Dairy Farmers of America, Zumbrota, Minnesota, and St. Albans, Vermont

Construction on an expansion to Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA) plant in Zumbrota, Minnesota, commenced in July. With the 86,000-square-foot expansion, the plant will produce an additional 7.5 million pounds of cheese and dairy powders per year, the co-op says.

Crews have been working on the site excavation plan in preparation for pouring the footings. Updates will include a cheese spray dryer and tower, employee wellness area and a wastewater treatment plant. The construction will continue over the next several months, with the expansion anticipated for completion by the end of 2021.

In addition, DFA this summer kicked off a $30 million investment to improve the milk processing and storage capacity of its St. Albans, Vermont, plant.

The co-op says the expansion is well underway. Three new receiving bays are being constructed, and new silos are being installed. The walls are going up on the new building, which will house the bays.

Contractors also are completing the concrete and masonry work so the rest of the building construction and process installation can continue. At this time, the project is still on track for completion later this fall, DFA says.

• Darigold Inc., Seattle

Darigold, the marketing and processing subsidiary of the Northwest Dairy Association (NDA) cooperative, recently announced plans to build a new large-scale global ingredients plant. The selection of a location for the plant is ongoing and will be announced in 2021 along with more specifics about the intended final products for commercialization.

Darigold also is streamlining its international distribution capabilities to complement production investments. The company has signed a lease for more than 284,000 square feet of warehouse space near the Port of Seattle. Darigold notes the new plant and warehouse not only will have positive customer impacts, but there will be substantial improvements to the environmental footprint of enterprise-wide operations — a major step in achieving the company’s previously announced goal to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Rendering courtesy of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery
ELLSWORTH EXPANDING — Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is embarking on its third facility, which will be located in Menomonie, Wisconsin. The new plant will focus on manufacturing specialty cheese and also will include a retail store.

•Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, Ellsworth, Wisconsin

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery recently announced it is building a new 60,000-square-foot plant in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which will include a retail store. The company also has locations in Ellsworth and Comstock, Wisconsin.

The Menomonie project will focus on manufacturing specialty cheese, and the retail store will feature cheese as well as a grill, deep fryer and pizza oven. It will create 42 new positions.

Completion of the project currently is slated for fall 2021.

• Fairlife LLC, Goodyear, Arizona

Ultrafiltered milk brand Fairlife LLC, owned by the Coca-Cola Co., is building a new 300,000-square-foot facility in Goodyear, Arizona.

Fairlife currently produces multiple varieties of dairy-based beverages at its production plant in Coopersville, Michigan, for distribution in the United States and Canada.

According to Neil Betteridge, senior vice president of global manufacturing technologies at Fairlife, Arizona was chosen for the project so that the facility would be in an area where dairy farms are willing and able to follow Fairlife’s requirements on responsible animal care and sustainable farming practices while producing the highest-quality milk.

“There are amazing dairy farmers in and around Goodyear, and this location enables competitive domestic and international production,” Betteridge says.

The new facility will create more than 100 jobs, and the plant will produce several Fairlife products, including different varieties of Fairlife ultrafiltered milk, Core Power, Fairlife YUP! and Fairlife Nutrition Plan.

The project, which has faced some delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has a targeted opening date of spring 2021.

• Great Lakes Cheese, Hiram, Ohio

Great Lakes Cheese in 2019 commenced construction on an expansion to its cheese plant in Hiram, Ohio, where the company also is building a new corporate headquarters facility.

The company plans to hire an additional 400 employees over the coming years as a result of these projects.

Great Lakes Cheese will begin operations in the 300,000-square-foot expansion of its packaging plant in Hiram, Ohio, in early November 2020. The new 55,000-square-foot corporate headquarters adjacent to the newly-expanded plant is on track to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Photo courtesy of Holmen Cheese
HOLMEN CHEESE COMES TO TOWN — Holmen Cheese LLC, a new 100,000-square-foot plant producing dairy and plant-based cheese alternatives, is set to begin production this fall.

• Holmen Cheese LLC, Holmen, Wisconsin

Holmen Cheese LLC is in the final stages of commissioning its $30 million newly custom-built, state-of the-art 100,000-square-foot facility that will produce dairy and plant-based cheese alternatives, cheese blends and processed cheeses for industrial, foodservice and retail markets.

Jeff Fowler, CEO, Holmen Cheese, says the company will be bringing on a new executive team. Hiring began earlier this year, with about 40 employees hired so far; once the plant is fully up and running, it will probably have around 55-60 employees, Fowler says, adding if the plant goes to multiple shifts, it could be closer to 70-80. The plant is slated to begin production in the next month.

Fowler says within its first year, Holmen Cheese aims to produce about 30 million pounds of cheese and dairy products.

“We do not source any milk,” he adds, “so everything we make is either finished cheeses and blends in with existing cheese, or is oil- or plant-based cheese.”

• Kraft Heinz Co., Springfield, Missouri

Kraft Heinz is investing in its Springfield, Missouri, manufacturing facility as part of a 5-year, $48 million project to enhance its manufacturing operations and capacity. Kraft Heinz currently employs 950 people in the Springfield region, and this is the third major capital investment in the facility over the last several years.

Since 1954, Kraft Heinz has operated from the Springfield manufacturing facility, which produces some of the company’s most recognizable products, including Kraft American Singles, Kraft Natural Cheese and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Its natural cheese division is set to be purchased by the U.S. division of Group Lactalis, though Kraft Heinz will retain its Springfield facility and processed cheese brands (see related article on page 1).

• Lactalis American Group, Nampa, Idaho

Lactalis American Group, which operates a cheese factory in Nampa, Idaho, recently announced plans to begin a $1.7 million capital project, increasing factory capacity and adding new jobs.

The capital project includes a plan to create 75 new jobs and increase production capacity at the company’s fresh Mozzarella facility. The expansion includes creating more than $20 million in new wages and $8.2 million in new total state revenue for Idaho, according to the company.

The facility’s fresh Mozzarella plant was completed in 2013. Lactalis American Group says it was one of several investments made to its Nampa facility over the last decade.

Lactalis American Group is a family-owned company headquartered in Buffalo, New York. The company has manufacturing facilities located in Idaho, Wisconsin and New York. The company produces French and Italian cheeses, including the brands Galbani and Président, and recently agreed to acquire Kraft Heinz’s natural cheese business.

Photo courtesy of Glanbia Nutritionals
MORE MILK IN MICHIGAN — MWC, a large-scale cheese and whey production facility and a joint venture of Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America and Select Milk Producers, is on track to open in early 2021.

• MWC, St. Johns, Michigan — Joint venture between Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America, Select Milk Producers

MWC, a joint venture cheese plant between Glanbia Nutritionals, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Select Milk Producers Inc. in the City of St. Johns, Michigan, is on track to open in early 2021, officials say.

The large-scale cheese and whey production facility — 50% of which is owned by Glanbia with the other half jointly owned by Select Milk and DFA — cost $470 million.

Hiring against the remaining 240 positions commenced earlier this year, with the expectation to be fully staffed in line with the commissioning timeline, officials say.

The new plant will be among the largest cheese manufacturing plants in the United States and the largest cheese facility in Michigan, with the additional localized processing expected to stabilize and strengthen Michigan’s dairy industry, joint venture partners say. When fully operational, MWC will process more than 2.9 billion pounds of milk and will produce in excess of 300 million pounds of block cheese and 20 million pounds of value-added whey protein powders each year.

• Ornua, Hilbert, Wisconsin

Ornua, Ireland’s largest premium dairy cooperative, recently announced a major expansion of its Ornua Ingredients North America division with a $10 million investment to upgrade its Hilbert, Wisconsin, cheese ingredients operation.

Ornua says the facility already has some of the most advanced dairy processing equipment in the U.S. dairy sector and includes a state-of-the-art innovation center that provides functional cheese solutions to Ornua’s U.S. food ingredient and foodservice customers.

The expansion plans for Hilbert will add 22,000 square feet of warehousing and cooling infrastructure to the operation, resulting in an additional 30% growth in production capacity. Construction of the site’s new infrastructure is being carried out by Wisconsin building firm Bayland Construction and is expected to be complete in February 2021.

Ornua Ingredients North America, which specializes in producing customized, functional cheese products for major U.S. food manufacturing and foodservice customers, operates two cheesemaking facilities: the Hilbert plant and another in Byron, Minnesota.

Photo courtesy of Specialty Cheese Co.
BREAKING GROUND — Specialty Cheese Co. recently broke ground on an expansion of its plant in Reeseville, Wisconsin. Pictured from left to right are Specialty Cheese employees Matt Smith, Jeanie Korth, Paul Scharfman, Mike Margelofsky, Jim Schwartz and David Scharfman.

• Specialty Cheese Co., Reeseville, Wisconsin

Specialty Cheese Co. recently broke ground on a plant expansion project to increase capacity for production of its fresh cheeses and snack line, Just the Cheese, at its facility in Reeseville, Wisconsin.

President Paul Scharfman says the company has outgrown its existing space and is adding 10,000 square feet to the facility, including new vats, packaging lines, pasteurizers and more.

“You don’t build a little bit — if you’re going to build, you build a lot. So it will double the capacity we have today. We’re blessed with growing markets, and what this expansion does is allow us not to say ‘no’ when our customers want more cheese,” Scharfman says.

He notes new positions will be added as needed, but if the project progresses as planned, the company expects to add about 100 jobs.

• Superior Dairy Inc., Canton, Ohio

Superior Dairy Inc., a fourth-generation family business in Canton, Ohio, is investing roughly $25 million dollars into the expansion of its plant as well as new equipment. The investment into the facility began in 2018 and is targeted for completion this year.

Greg Soehnlen, CEO, Superior Dairy, says the project’s target was to create 123 jobs, and it already has exceeded this goal, currently employing more than 400, both full and part time.

“This is an amazing achievement for our company to experience continued growth over the years. We are proud to be a fourth-generation family-owned business that is able to support Ohio’s economy for 98 years,” Soehnlen says. “With this new expansion, we look forward to welcoming new employees in the area and having (them) grow with us. Our business model has always been putting the community first.”
When the project began, the company had three goals: to increase its ability to receive raw milk, to enlarge the employee locker room and to grow its infrastructure to support its processing and filling lines.

Superior Dairy’s entire operation has been housed in the Canton, Ohio, plant since 1922. Within the plant, the company produces fluid milk products, cottage cheese, sour cream, flavored milk, ice cream and chip dip. Its two sister companies, LEL and Creative Edge, also are on the premises. LEL is responsible for Superior Dairy’s product distribution, while Creative Edge operates as its strategic “think tank,” according to Soehnlen.


• Sweet Grass Dairy, Thomasville, Georgia

If there’s one thing Sweet Grass Dairy has learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s to expect the unexpected. The company is nearing the finish line on a new production facility in Thomasville, Georgia, but has experienced some delays.

Sweet Grass Dairy also recently rebranded with a new logo, new packaging and a new color palette. When comparing the new and old logo, Sweet Grass Dairy wanted to “set the cow free” and let her roam as the company’s cows do in South Georgia, officials say.

The company’s new 12,000-square-foot space will feature a state-of-the-art production facility with customized environmental controls to maintain the correct temperature, humidity and airflow in the cheese aging rooms, a packaging area for the company’s mail order program, and an office area with meeting rooms. The new building also will include a break room for employees to recharge during and after their shifts.

Sweet Grass Dairy has been making handcrafted cheeses since 2000 in its existing 5,000-square-foot facility. While the Southeast represents the company’s largest market share, the cheeses are distributed nationally and have found success in both foodservice and retailers across the nation, says co-owner Jessica Little.

With six core cheeses in its line up, Sweet Grass Dairy is hoping this new facility will provide an opportunity to improve cheese consistency and quality, Little adds.

Mallory Sofferin, marketing coordinator, Sweet Grass Dairy, notes the company is hoping to move its administrative offices to the new facility in mid-October and will continue to make cheese from its current facility while testing the new one.

“With aged cheeses, it will take at least two months to know how consistent these cheeses are that are made in the new facility,” Sofferin says. “We’re really looking forward to this next stage of growth and all of the opportunities this new facility will bring us.”

Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
THE BRICKS OF BABCOCK HALL— Construction is coming along on the new University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Dairy Research and Babcock Hall Dairy Plant addition in Madison, Wisconsin. In the above photo, taken August 2020, bricks are being washed and cleaned.

• University of Wisconsin-Madison Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wisconsin

The State of Wisconsin Building Commission (SBC) earlier this year approved a $25.7 million increase in the project budget for the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR) and the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant addition.

The project will construct a three-story addition and remodel portions of Babcock Hall to house CDR. It will demolish 2,770 square feet of space within Babcock Hall, demolish the 3,200-square-foot Science House, construct an approximately 48,569-square-foot addition to the west of the existing building and renovate about 28,905 square feet in the existing building.

The renovation and addition will provide a state-of-the-art production, teaching, and research facility for both CDR and the food science department’s dairy plant.

Construction is commencing well, notes Crystal Potts, director of state relations at UW-Madison.

“Since there is highly specialized design-build-to-suit sanitary processing equipment for CDR included in this project, there are some expected long-lead times,” she says. “Therefore, the overall completion date of the entire project will vary between January and March 2022. However, the final completion will occur within the date approved by the SBC, which is May 2022.

This month, Membrane Processing and Controls (MPC) will begin on-site construction of CDR specialty process equipment/piping/controls/etc., she notes.

In January 2021, general building construction of the new CDR will be complete, and the specialty processing equipment will be substantially complete, she adds, noting over the next few months, CDR will transition from the old space to the new space, and system commissioning and Wisconsin Department of Ag licensing will take place.

By late fall 2021, MPC dairy process equipment will be substantially complete, and by winter/early spring 2022, the dairy renovation will be complete, Potts says. Final completion is expected by May 2022.

• University of Wisconsin-River Falls, River Falls, Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF) is nearing completion of its dairy pilot plant renovation.

The UW-River Falls Dairy Pilot Plant is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. The plant is expected to double in size to 6,000 square feet. Construction began in June 2018, and the first piece of equipment — a reverse osmosis/ultrafiltration combo from Complete Filtration Resources Inc. — was installed Jan. 10, 2020, in the renovated facility.

Michelle Farner, faculty associate and dairy pilot plant manager, says officials are working on finalizing specifications for installation bids.

“We are looking forward to having the plant up and running in the next few months,” she says.


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