Strict regulations spur owners of cheese plant into expansion

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Strict milk quotas and government regulations imposed by the European Union fueled expansion into the United States, according to officials of the Irish milk processing company known as Glanbia.
Glanbia, whose name means “pure food” in the traditional Irish language of Gaelic, first came to the United States in 1988 and currently has a major cheese processing plant in Twin Falls, Idaho. The company announced Thursday that it plans to build a cheese plant south of Clovis that is expected to bring at least 200 jobs to Clovis.
That kind of expansion wouldn’t be possible in Ireland despite excellent climate and farming conditions, company officials say.
“They didn’t get their reputation of the Emerald Isle being green for no reason, there is grass everywhere,” said Jeff Williams, a Glanbia Foods executive vice president based in Twin Falls.
“The ability to produce milk cheaply is there but they have a (milk production) quota, so for them to grow they have to expand beyond the borders of the Republic of Ireland,” Williams said. “It was logical for a company that wanted to grow in the dairy business to come to a growing dairy area like eastern New Mexico and western Texas.”
Glanbia currently has three facilities in Idaho, one in Wisconsin, nine in Britain, and about two dozen in Ireland, according to its corporate Web site. The company reports that it is the largest producer of liquid milk, cheddar cheese, fresh dairy products, pig meat and fresh soup in Ireland, and has already become the third largest producer of cheese in the United States.
Originally a farmer-owned cooperative, Williams said Glanbia became a publicly-traded company to raise money for expansion but the majority of the shares are still held by farmers.
Glanbia attracted extensive attention from Irish news media over the past year due to allegations by the Irish government that it was involved in a price-fixing milk cartel. Glanbia settled those charges with the Irish High Court on July 29 by agreeing to comply with the terms of the 2002 Competition Act, according to the Irish Times newspaper and other media reports.
“Most of us here (in U.S. management) really had just a very vague knowledge of what was going on over there in Ireland,” Williams said.
Although Glanbia officials in Ireland could not be reached for comment, earlier press releases on the company’s Web site denied the allegations.
Chase Gentry, executive director of Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, said he didn’t know about the Glanbia court case and only became familiar with the firm about three to four months ago.
“Actually, our negotiations and our direct contact initially has been with Select Dairy Producers. Glanbia is the party they’ve chosen to work with,” Gentry said. “It’d be pretty difficult for them to do price fixing here since there are so many players in the market.”