Kraft to close Visalia dairy operation

by Eric Schroeder
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TULARE, CALIF. — Kraft Foods Inc. on Tuesday unveiled plans to consolidate the production of Knudsen cottage cheese and sour cream into its Tulare cheese manufacturing facility and phase down and close its 134,000-square-foot Visalia, Calif., plant in April 2007.

"This consolidation — part of Kraft’s broad restructuring program — will make more efficient use of our manufacturing assets," said Tom Hedge, vice-president of manufacturing for Kraft’s cheese, dairy and food service sector. "Our objective is to establish a large-scale regional dairy facility to service California and the West coast."

Mr. Hedge noted that the Visalia plant had been in need of costly upgrading, an option Kraft chose not to explore. Kraft bought the Visalia plant in 1986.

"Our Tulare plant has both a strong infrastructure and available space to accommodate production of Knudsen products," he said. "Consolidation will help enable us to establish a sustainable, efficient and profitable presence in Tulare county."

Kraft expects Visalia employees to transition to Tulare as early as November, following equipment installation at the latter. Approximately half of Visalia’s 160 employees will be needed to staff the transitioning production, Mr. Hedge said. The other half of the positions will be eliminated.

The Visalia facility, which began operations in 1927 as a privately owned Knudsen Creamery, producing sour cream, cottage cheese and buttermilk, is the third facility to be closed by Kraft this year as part of the Northfield, Ill.-based company’s three-year restructuring plan. The other planned closings are in Hoover, Ala., and Sussex, Wis.

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