Commonwealth opens yogurt plant

Dieter Doubousek, vice presi­dent of Com­monwealth Dairy, leads a tour of the new factory in Brattle­boro during a grand opening cer­emony, Wednesday. Gov. Shumlin was also on hand to tour the plant. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)

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Thursday March 24, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- The latest addition to Vermont's legacy of high-quality dairy products is now operational as the new Commonwealth Dairy yogurt manufacturing facility in Brattleboro opened its doors.

The 39,000 square-foot plant held its grand opening Wednesday afternoon with business and municipal leaders from around the county. The processing facility is a joint venture of Commonwealth Dairy LLC and Ehrmann USA, the American subsidiary of the family-run international yogurt company Ehrmann AG.

Plant managers report the new processing center will produce different yogurt formulations for other companies under a private label, as well as its own all-natural "Green Mountain Creamery" brand. It is now the only private label and co-pack yogurt producer in New England.

At its capacity, the plant will consume as much as 110 million pounds of milk to produce 70 million pounds of yogurt every year. Five percent of the company's operating profits go directly back to the Vermont farms that supply the milk.

The company will use only pure sugar (no added high fructose corn syrup) and no preservatives, done through the use of the latest manufacturing advances.

Founded in 1920, Ehrmann products are sold in more than 40 countries with annual revenues in excess of $1 billion.

"If not for the unshakeable commitment of Ehrmann and local, state and federal officials, we may never have been able to build this truly state-of-the-art plant that is capable of competitively producing premium yogurt products," said Commonwealth Dairy President Thomas Moffitt.

Earlier this month, the plant produced 8,000 gallons of yogurt on its trial run to test the equipment and the products. The real production is expected within the next two weeks.

Among the nearly 100 guests at the facility to test the newest Vermont dairy product was Gov. Peter Shumlin, who said this project serves as a model for the future of business within the state.

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"If ever you've seen an example about why our kids are going to have a bright economic future, why we're going to have jobs in Vermont, why we're going to be a prosperous state -- it's going to be in this project. Our agricultural future is bright because of projects like this," he said. "On behalf of the state of Vermont, we're extraordinarily grateful for your good judgment. And we hope there will be more behind you."

Former agriculture secretary Roger Allbee called the Commonwealth addition to Vermont's dairy line one example of the renaissance in the industry.

"We have a commitment to support Vermont agriculture at all levels. It's part of our culture, it's part of our history and it's part of our future. And it's part of our working landscape that is so important to who we are as a state," he said. Practicing his German for the Ehrmann representatives, Allbee said "you are Vermonters today."

Vermont's current agriculture secretary Chuck Ross presented Commonwealth with the official milk-handler's license to conduct its dairy operations within the state. Ross joined Shumlin, Allbee and a handful of guests on a tour of the new facility presided over by Dieter Dobousek, Commonwealth's chief technical officer.

Located on 5.9 acres off Omega Drive, the plant was constructed in 100,000 manhours with 2,231 cubic yards of concrete, 308 tons of steel and 350 miles of wiring within the interior.

The state-of-the-art facility is the largest dairy plant built in Vermont since Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the 1990s. The state's agriculture agency reports Commonwealth is the largest commercial plant built in the last two decades.

Thirty-three employees presently work at the new facility.

Financed using $28 million in New Markets Tax Credits, the project received assistance from the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) and the CEI Capital Management LLC, as well as Wainwright Bank (now Eastern Bank) and the Vermont Economic Development Authority.

"The New Markets Tax Credit financing was a major factor in deciding where to locate our facility and, was, quite frankly, a major driver in making this plant a reality," Moffitt said.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.