Canadian cheese company to close one Tulare plant, expand two others in town

Saputo a Canadian-owned cheese producer says most employees, operations will shift to company’s two other plants in Tulare

TULARE – Saputo Cheese will close its Bardsley plant but Tulare’s largest employer says there will be little to no layoffs.

Canadian-owned Saputo Cheese announced the closure of the “cut and wrap” plant, located at 1025 E. Bardsley Ave., in a Feb. 8 released statement. The company said it needs to “right-size” its West Coast operations by closing the plant sometime in fiscal year 2023.

“The impact on employees is expected to be minimal as opportunities for employment will be available at other Saputo facilities in Tulare,” the announcement stated. Saputo owns two other plants in Tulare, one on North J Street and the other East Levin Avenue.

The company did not return phone calls as of press time, but Tulare Assistant City Manager Josh McDonnell says his conversation with the company assured the city they have plans to invest in the two other Saputo facilities in town and “very few to no-one will lose their job” due to the Bardsley plant closure.

“Saputo told us they plan to modernize the plants here,” McDonnell said.

The company said it plans to invest approximately $169 million towards the modernization and expansion of its cheese manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin and California and to support its growth plan in the retail market segment. These initiatives will begin in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022 and are expected to take approximately 24 months to implement.

“Today’s announcement is the first in a series of investments and consolidation activities that will increase efficiency and productivity, improving our ability to meet the evolving needs of our customers and consumers,” President and CEO Lino A. Saputo said in a released statement.

In its Feb. 10 earnings statement for the fourth quarter of 2021, the Montreal-based company reported net earnings year over year were down $210 million in Canadian dollars, or about $165 million U.S. dollars. The company pointed to labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures for the drop. Those factors had the greatest impact on the U.S. sector, where Saputo ranks among the top three cheese producers and is one of the largest producers of extended shelf-life and cultured dairy products. That’s why the company is investing $36 million to streamline one of its Tulare plants as well as two manufacturing facilities in Australia in the first phase of its plan to streamline operations. The investments and consolidations are expected to result in annual savings of $87 million by the end of 2025. 

A recent city of Tulare report says Saputo is the city’s largest employer as well as the biggest property owner by valuation. Saputo employs 913 workers, more than double the next highest at Land O Lakes at 479, and accounts for 4.84% of the city’s total assessed value followed by Land O Lakes (3.69%) and U.S. Cold Storage (1.37%). Eight of the top 13 employers are dairy-related in Tulare, where milk is king and contributes to the county’s $1.8 billion crop. Including Saputo, three companies in town plan to expand their Tulare operations, Lactalis/Kraft cheese and US Cold Storage. Tulare County is the top dairy producer in the U.S., in large part thanks to the city of Tulare, which has a cup of milk with a straw as a water tower overlooking the city to commemorate the longstanding achievement.

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