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Dairy co-op Gay Lea buys Calgary cheesemaker

Ontario co-operative continues westward expansion

(AlbertaCheese.com)

Ontario dairy farmer co-operative Gay Lea Foods’ plans for expansion into Western Canada now include Calgary cheesemaker Alberta Cheese Company.

Gay Lea announced Monday it has bought the family-owned processor, effective Friday (Oct. 13), for an undisclosed sum.

Set up in 1976 by cheesemaker Frank Talarico, Alberta Cheese makes “traditional” Italian cheeses for sale under the Franco’s and Sorrento brands, and imports and distributes cheeses and other foods from other countries.

Gay Lea Foods said its deal adds the Franco’s and Sorrento brands to its own roster of Ontario cheeses and will “further increase the production capacity of the co-operative.”

The co-op said it also expects the deal to help expand its relationships with Alberta foodservice providers, retailers and consumers.

Gay Lea said it also plans to “maintain full operations” at the Alberta Cheese plant and preserve relationships with existing customers, suppliers and employees. The plant currently has a staff of 28.

Talarico started his career in cheese at a facility his father owned in Ontario, where he worked until the mid-1970s.

“My family leveraged our heritage, passion and expertise to launch Alberta Cheese, and we are immensely proud to see it become part of a successful and growing co-operative like Gay Lea Foods,” Talarico said in the co-op’s release.

Gay Lea, Ontario’s biggest dairy co-op with over 1,300 member dairy farms and 950 staff, has been on a growth-by-acquisition track in recent years in its home province, buying butter maker Stirling Creamery and cheesemaker Black River last year, as well as goat dairy Hewitt’s Dairy and Hamilton-based Salerno Dairy in 2014.

In all, the Mississauga-based co-op so far has 12 production facilities and distribution centres across Ontario and Quebec.

The co-op last year also budgeted $140 million to set up an nutrition and nutraceutical-grade dairy ingredients hub through upgrades and expansions at its Ontario facilities, plus a new research and development centre in Hamilton.

Its moves into Western Canada also include plans announced last year for a dairy ingredient and butter plant in Winnipeg, in a joint venture with processor Vitalus Nutrition. — AGCanada.com Network

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