South Dakota Gets Another Cheese Plant

February 1, 2012 05:00 AM
 

Bel Brands USA selects Brookings site to produce Mini Babybel cheese; state needs ‘15,000 more cows.’


Bel Brands USA has selected Brookings, S.D., as the site for its third U.S. cheese manufacturing plant.

The company announced yesterday it would begin construction this summer of a 170,000-square-foot cheese plant to produce its Mini Babybel cheese. It will invest about $100 million to build the new manufacturing facility on a 48-acre land parcel near the I-29 corridor.

The new plant is good news for the state’s dairy producers, said Marv Post, chairman of the South Dakota Dairy Producers organization.

“It’s an exciting time for us with a fourth processor coming to the state,” said Post, a registered Holstein breeder. With Bel Brands’ new plant, “we’ve got to get 15,000 more cows in the state” to meet milk demand, he added.

Dean Foods, Davisco and Valley Queen Cheese Factory already operate milk processing plants in South Dakota. A dairy cooperative, First District Association, just expanded its plant in nearby Litchfield, Minn., which has boosted demand for milk by some 7 million pounds a day, Post said.

Available feed and a favorable environment for dairy permitting have helped boost South Dakota milk production in recent years, especially along the state’s I-29 corridor. South Dakota produced about 1.87 billion pounds of milk in 2011, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s up significantly from 1.5 billion pounds in 2006. Likewise, the state’s dairy herd grew from 81,000 cows in 2006 to 90,000 head in 2011.

“The robust South Dakota dairy industry and its hard-working Midwestern values make Brookings an ideal location for our new plant,” said Lance Chambers, president and CEO of Bel Brands USA. “Bel Brands has experienced significant growth over the past few years, and this new plant is essential to expanding our production capacity to meet the growing demand for our Mini Babybel cheeses.”

Bel Brands USA has more than doubled in size over the past four years. Three of its key brands -- Mini Babybel, The Laughing Cow and Boursin -- have fueled much of the growth, the company said.
 
The new cheese plant will mean between 365 and 400 new jobs for Brookings, said Al Heuton, director of the Brookings Economic Development Corporation. Heuton noted that the plant would begin with about 200 employees initially, then ramp up its hiring as the plant begins production. The plant should reach its peak employee number within three years after the plant opens in 2013.
 
“I am thrilled to welcome Bel Brands to South Dakota,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard said. “The impact of this project goes beyond the creation of up to 400 jobs. It goes beyond the estimated annual $500 million economic impact once the plant is fully operational. And it goes beyond the opportunity for our dairy operations to expand both capacity and market share. Having an internationally respected company like Bel Brands as our newest corporate citizen tells the world that South Dakota is open and ready for business from anywhere around the globe.”

Bel Brands USA is a subsidiary of Paris-based Fromageries Bel and is based in Chicago. It also has two other U.S. production facilities, located in Leitchfield, Ky., and Little Chute, Wis. The company manufactures and markets The Laughing Cow cheese wedges and Mini Babybel snacking cheese, as well Boursin, Merkts, Kaukauna and other natural and gourmet cheese spreads.
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