Stonyfield owner purchases Commonwealth Dairy

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Editor's Note: This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. to include a comment from Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 12:18 p.m. to include quotes from Adam Grinold, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.

BUFFALO — The world's biggest dairy company, which purchased Stonyfield Yogurt in 2017, now owns Commonwealth Dairy, a yogurt maker with facilities in Brattleboro and Casa Grande, Ariz.

According to a press release from Lactalis Group, the purchase was finalized on July 5.

"The Ehrmann acquisition is a terrific complement to our Stonyfield and Siggi's brands in the U.S.," said Thierry Clement, CEO of Lactalis North America, located in Buffalo. "Ehrmann's Vermont and Arizona plants are the ideal platform to develop our star brands, strengthen national distribution, and secure topflight quality and service for our private label customers. The capability we gain with Ehrmann's two plants, combined with the power of our leading brands, ensures the long term growth of the Lactalis yogurt business in the U.S. and underlines our commitment and ambition in the category.

“We are delighted to have Commonwealth Dairy join the Lactalis family and we look forward to collaborating with the Vermont and Arizona teams to build a clear vision for our U.S. Yogurt business," Clement said in a follow-up email. "The strong talent pool at both plants will play a key role in accomplishing our ambition in the U.S. yogurt market. This ambition includes our firm commitment to develop and grow the Vermont and Arizona plants. We look forward to deploying all of our resources – with Commonwealth Dairy and our other U.S. businesses – to achieve this goal.”

Commonwealth Dairy was founded by Ehrmann AG, a German dairy company, and two men from Massachusetts, Thomas Moffit and Benjamin Johnson.

Lactalis was founded in France in 1933 by Andr Besnier and has remained in the Besnier family ever since. In 1968, Lactalis launched its President brand of Camembert. It is based in Laval, Mayenne, France and is the largest dairy products group in the world. It is also the second-largest food products group in France, behind only Danone, which previously owned Stonyfield Farm, which is located in Londonderry, N.H.

Lactalis brands include Galbani, Black Diamond, Rondelé, Société, Bridel, Parmalat, Président, Skånemejerier, Rachel’s Organic and Valmont.

Commonwealth Dairy was established in 2009 and employs 250 people in Brattleboro and Casa Grande. Commonwealth manufactures and distributes yogurt and other dairy products under the Green Mountain Creamery and Liebe brands. It also features a strong private label business.

Adam Grinold, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, which has worked closely with Commonwealth Dairy since its founding in 2011, said he was just as surprised as everyone else when he heard the news.

"The way I learned about it was through a press release," Grinold said. "We look forward to welcoming these folks to Vermont."

He has been in contact with folks at Commonwealth, who declined to comment on the sale and has attempted to contact Lactalis in Buffalo, but to no avail.

Grinold said as with the Stonyfield purchase, it appears Lactalis has done "its due diligence" prior to its purchase of Commonwealth.

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"They appear to know the value of the brand Commonwealth has created in private labels as well as its Green Mountain Creamery label," he said. "They also appear to recognize the value in a Vermont-based company. The people in the Brattleboro facility are highly trained and skilled and they know their business well. I am confident Lactalis saw and recognized that. We here at BDCC hope to continue to support the operation and any future expansion in Brattleboro."

Grinold said he understands how the first reaction is to question whether this is a good thing for Brattleboro and Vermont. He believes when more is known, it will turn out to be a good thing.

"This is a reminder that folks can start, grow and be able to sell a business established in Vermont," he said, adding with a chuckle, "It's also an opportunity to maybe move their North American headquarters to Vermont."

In 2016, Commonwealth applied for a grant from the Windham County Economic Development Program to help finance an expansion project in Brattleboro. However, noted Grinold, Commonwealth did not follow through on the expansion and therefore did not receive the grant for which it had been approved.

Peter Elwell, Town Manager for Brattleboro, said the work performed by the town, the state and the BDCC to put Commonwealth Dairy in its position to grow and increase employment should give Lactalis "a head start on any similar plans."

"We look forward to meeting the folks at Lactalis and to working with them, BDCC, and the state of Vermont to help Lactalis prosper and grow here in Brattleboro," said Elwell.

This is the fourth Lactalis purchase in the United States in the past two years. With the addition of Commonwealth Dairy, Lactalis now has eight factories and more than 2,400 employees in the U.S. Around the world, Lactalis has more than 250 facilities in 60 countries and employs 75,000 people.

Lactalis Group first came to the United States in the 1980s, opening the first U.S. manufacturing facility devoted exclusively to French brie.

Until 1999, Lactalis was known as la société Besnier and is now controlled by the Belgium-based holding company BSA International SA.

Lactalis averages annual global revenues of 16.5 billion euros.

In 2018, Lactalis had to recall 12 million boxes of powdered baby milk from supermarket shelves around the world due to the discovery of salmonella contamination in the French factory where it was produced. A company spokesman told the BBC that products distributed in continental Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa were affected. The UK, U.S. and Australia were not affected.

The same factory was responsible for a 2005 outbreak that caused illness to 146 children.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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