A Vermont maker of goat cheese, cream and butter will be sold for an undisclosed sum.
Allison Hooper and Bob Reese started Vermont Creamery 32 years ago at a farm in Brookfield, using $2,000 of their own money and a $4,000 loan from a church.
Today the company grosses $30 million annually from products made at its creamery in Websterville.
In the past two years the company has gone from 55 employees to 100 and the growth is expected to continue.
“It’s outgrowing our ability to fund the growth out of our own cash. And our appetite for going back to the bank and borrowing multi-millions of dollars at our age didn’t seem altogether practical,” says Hooper.
Hooper and Reese have stepped back from running the company day-to-day and put a management team in place. Last year they started shopping for buyers.
Hooper says Land O’Lakes was a surprise suitor that appealed to her and Reese because it’s an American company and a farmer-owned cooperative.
She says Land O’Lakes is committed to keeping the company in Vermont and intends to quadruple Vermont Creamery’s revenue in the next four years, which could double the size of the workforce.
“They are investing significant resources into our creamery and industrial park here in Central Vermont, which indicates they have every intention of building an outpost here in New England,” Hooper says.
She says Land O’Lakes has asked all Vermont employees to stay on and has increased wages for hourly workers.
Vermont Creamery will be an independent subsidiary of Land O’Lakes and continue to do its own marketing and sales.
Land O’Lakes reported $13 billion dollars in sales last year. Vermont Creamery will be a tiny part of its revenue but Hooper says the company sees acquiring Vermont Creamery as a way to reach a market it has yet to tap.
The creamery buys goat milk from 14 Vermont farms and 12 farms in Ontario. Hooper says Land O’Lakes wants to develop more Vermont sources for milk.
“They would much prefer to have us buying our milk locally within several hours of the creamery,” she says.
Hooper says Vermont Creamery will maintain its B Corps status. B Corps are companies that meet certain social and environmental standards.
Hooper knows some Vermonters are disappointed to see her company sold to an out-of-state firm but she believes giving it access to the resources of a much larger company and keeping it in Vermont is good news.
“Now we have an opportunity to have a parent who can really provide the long-term stability and investment and support really good jobs in the area and support our working landscape in agriculture,” she says.
Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander says her farm advocacy organization is always happy to see a Vermont producer grow and succeed.
“But we’re also very concerned when a very large corporation enters the picture to take over that local entity. Too many times we’ve seen that influence change not only the nature of the business but the nature of the product,” Stander adds.
Stander says she’s particularly concerned about Land O’Lakes because the company was one of a group of agribusinesses that worked successfully last year to nullify a Vermont law requiring labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.
“They [also] have had a long and difficult relationship with family-scale agriculture in the upper Midwest where they are based,” she says.
The Ayers Brook Goat Dairy in Randolph, which is owned by the Hooper family and one of the main suppliers of goat milk, is not part of the sale.