BRATTLEBORO -- Since it opened in March 2011, Commonwealth Dairy's story has been one of success.
In June 2013, it completed a $12-million expansion of its $28.5-million plant to support a new product line. And on Monday, Thomas Moffitt, Commonwealth Dairy's president, returned from Casa Grande, Ariz., where it and its partner, Ehrmann AG, just opened a new facility.
The state-of-the art yogurt manufacturing facility in Arizona was built by the same company that built Commonwealth's factory in Brattleboro, said Moffitt, but it's twice the size. Currently it employs 110 people and Moffitt said in two years they hope to have 250 employees. It officially opens next week.
"Some of our largest customers pushed us to open a plant on the West Coast," he said. "They liked our quality and couldn't find comparable products out there."
Moffitt said the plan to expand on the West Coast began about 18 months ago and has been driven by the national appetite for Greek-style yogurt.
"We will be buying locally from four family farms," he said, who are producing milk that is free of growth hormones and GMOs. "Our customers want us to match our Vermont product as close as possible. The same standard we have in Vermont we are replicating in Arizona."
Casa Grande was chosen because its location is readily accessible to all of the major consumer markets along the West Coast, said Moffitt. There will be no cut in production in Brattleboro when the Casa Grande facility is fully up and running he said, though he has several key people there lending a helping hand during startup.
Moffitt co-founded Commonwealth Dairy with Ben Johnson. They reached out to Ehrmann AG, a German yogurt company, for financial and technical assistance. The project received financing not only from Ehrmann, but also from a number of state and local economic programs and through the sale of federal tax credits.
Commonwealth Dairy is now New England's only private-label yogurt producer, producing a product under its own label -- Green Mountain Creamery -- and fulfilling contracts with a number of third parties to produce yogurt for their own labels, a practice that is known as co-packing. The names of those third parties is confidential.
In the first six months following its opening in 2011, Commonwealth Dairy hired 30 people and was producing 622,000 pounds of yogurt. Now, with the introduction of its new product line -- four flavors of kids' squeeze-pouch yogurt -- its employment has increased to 145 people.
"While you see shelf-stable yogurt smoothies on the market, this will be the first actual real yogurt in a pouch," said Moffitt, about the new product line.
While the first phase is to be release it under the Green Mountain Creamery label, he said, the second phase is to sell it to its co-packing partners.
"But our local channels will be the first to get it," he said.
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