Milk co-op’s processing plant acquisition may help Virginia dairy farmers

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Harris Teeter sold its well-recognized dairy brand’s milk processing plant to Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association Inc. – a business move that may result in growth opportunities for Virginia dairy producers.

The grocery chain recently announced that the company is selling its Hunter Farms dairy processing plant to the cooperative—an association of more than 900 dairy farm families in 13 states bottling Maola brand milk and dairy products. Founded in 1920, the cooperative’s farmers produce 3 billion pounds of milk a year for global consumers and manufacturers.

Hunter Farms’ nearly 160 full-time associates in its High Point, N.C., facility will retain their jobs in the acquisition. The plant produces milk, plus a variety of frozen dairy treats, juices, cultured products and ice creams. The new plant expands the co-op’s capacity to produce those specialty products, and is welcome news to Virginia’s dairy farmers who are co-op members.

Franklin County Farm Bureau members Joanna Shipp and Laird Bowman are a father-daughter team milking 225 cows and farming 1,000 acres at Bowmont Farm. Bowman sits on the cooperative’s board, and Shipp is the seventh generation to work the family farm.

Shipp said expanding their market will present opportunities to try new things and serve more customers in the region.

“I think with a new plant we can expand some of the things we’re already doing,” she said. “And I’d like to see some value-added products added to our Maola brand, such as lactose-free products and specialty milk-blended drinks, like a milk-coffee drink. There is a lot of innovation going on in the fluid milk category right now.”

Lindsay Reames, MDVA’s vice president of sustainability and external relations, said acquiring the processing plant is a strategic opportunity to grow the cooperative and increase overall sales.

“This is a stake in the ground to grow the value-added business for our cooperative,” Reames said. “Adding processing capacity in North Carolina diversifies the marketplace for our farmers, and helps us grow our footprint in the Southeast.”

Jay Bryant, the cooperative’s CEO, said with five processing plants working in collaboration, “we are establishing ourselves as the premier sustainable choice for dairy on the East Coast.”

Hunter Farms’ ice cream and beverage brands will still be available on Harris Teeter’s shelves.


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