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Tulare County Cheese Plant Will Layoff 144

Mozzarella Fresca in Tipton will close their Italian cheese manufacturing plant in September laying off 144 workers. The Tulare County plant along Hwy 99 has been in operation since 1997.

Owned by the European dairy firm Lactalis American Group, the company has invested $40 million in a new mozzarella plant in Nampa Idaho that has now expanded and hired new workers.

The company makes fresh mozzarella and other soft Italian cheeses  under the Precious and Galbani label.

Word of the layoffs came in a state WARN notice issued this week to inform workers.

Last year the company told milk supplier California Dairies Inc of the planned closure. The company’s plant manager left Mozzarella Fresca in December to join a new start up in Visalia.

The company announced in February 2012 that construction would start on the $40 million Nampa Idaho plant in March with a 10 month construction schedule.The new 61,000 sf plant would increase production from 7 million pounds currently to 40 million lbs – more than a five fold increase. Some 70 new jobs would be added to the 40 who already work there.

Sources says the Tipton plant employed up to 200 based on time of year. A company spokesman declined to comment.

Mozzarella Fresca is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lactalis American who bought the California company in 2007. At that time it was already the nation’s largest fresh mozzarella maker according to testimony at a 2007 hearing of the CDFA discussing the price of milk in California. The state regulates the milk industry here including the minimum price dairymen get for their milk depending on how the milk is used.

The price of milk was big issue then and may be even bigger now. Lower costs in Idaho may have made a difference here although the Tulare County plant had been cobbled together on a small 1940s footprint and the new Idaho plant was deigned from the ground up.

At that March 2007 hearing CAO of the company Jay Wilverding told a CDFA panel that the high price of milk in California had already caused  them to transfer some 6% of their cheese production to their Idaho plant and that future investment in the small Tipton plant was in doubt because of the regulatory atmosphere in California. The company also closed a plant in Turlock.

Dairymen in California have complained bitterly in the past year that cheese makers in California pay less for their milk than out of state cheese makers pay their milk suppliers. Cheese makers in the state argue their overall costs are higher in California. Their trade group said that small cheese plants in California would be closing and even cited Mozzerella Fresca in testimony last year.

The Tipton plant is a relatively small facility constrained on all sizes from expanding.It is the historic Arden creamery that has been owned by multiple parties until it was converted to make cheese under the Sequoia Cheese label for a time before being purchased and modernized by the then Concord-based Mozzarella Fresca. They relocated production to Tulare County, the number one dairy county in the USA.

Now a new chapter opens for the plant with sources saying is likely to be sold again to a small food manufacturer.

Meanwhile Idaho dairy plants like Chobani Yogurt are on a tear.In December 2012, Chobani Greek Yogurt opened its newest factory in Twin Falls.The company produces 4.2 million cases of yogurt a week and now that total could be doubling. Informed sources say Chobani looked for a plant site in Tulare before deciding on Idaho.

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