by SUSAN MANN
Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Limited plans to retain the Black River Cheese Company name and retail store, located near Milford in Prince Edward County, after the co-op’s agreement to purchase the 115-year-old company takes effect June 1.
Most of the Black River cheese production, however, is moving to a Gay Lea Foods-owned plant in Ivanhoe, north of Belleville, says Michael Barrett, Gay Lea Foods president and CEO. “There will be very limited cheese production at the (Black River Cheese Company) plant.”
Barrett says Gay Lea Foods hasn’t yet determined how much production would be moved and how much would stay at the Milford facility because “the deal came together pretty quickly and it’s closing pretty quickly.” Gay Lea Foods is still evaluating the situation.
The Black River Cheese Company employs about 15 full-time people and Barrett couldn’t say how many of them would lose their jobs when most of the production goes to Ivanhoe.
The cheese production is being moved because the Black River Cheese Company plant has “some significant waste water issues,” he notes. “That’s always a restriction when you’re looking at being able to expand production.”
Barrett declined to disclose the purchase price of Black River Cheese.
Barrett says Gay Lea Foods decided to buy the cheese company because it wants to expand “our basket of goods.”
“Black River has some very unique product offerings, like their maple cheddar, so we’re looking to expand the distribution” of those products, he notes.
In buying the Black River company, Gay Lea Foods is continuing its expansion in the cheese market by purchasing other companies, such as Ivanhoe and Salerno. Gay Lea Foods has also purchased shares in Mariposa Dairy Ltd., which produces goat and sheep’s milk cheeses that are sold in Canada and the United States.
“The consumer is always looking for those expanded goods,” he notes. “That maple cheddar is a very interesting product that’s being listed in Costco and has some good opportunities for us.”
Barrett says Gay Lea Foods will retain the Black River Cheese label as “we think it’s a good brand.”
Gay Lea Foods was founded in 1958. It’s Ontario’s largest dairy co-op with more than 3,800 members. The co-op recently opened up its membership to licensed dairy goat producers.
The processor makes a variety of products, including milk, cottage cheese, sour cream, butter, whipped cream, cheeses and a range of goat’s milk products. BF