Lifeway won't open former Golden Guernsey plant until end of year

Scott Ash
The front gate at the old Golden Guernsey facility that was locked since the plant closed in January will remain closed until at least the end of the year. Lifeway, which has purchased the property, said it’s hoping to reopen the plant by the end of the year.
Published on: 8/27/2013

In the days after Lifeway Foods won an auction in May to purchase the vacant Golden Guernsey plant in Waukesha, Chief Executive Officer Julie Smolyansky hoped to open the facility by the end of the summer.

The goal has now been pushed back.

Derek Miller, director of digital marketing at Lifeway, said the Morton Grove, Ill.,-based company's new target date is to open before the end of the year.

"It's kind of a moving target," Miller said.

He said Lifeway is still auditing equipment inside the old dairy processing plant.

Miller added Lifeway needs new equipment for its cultured dairy kefir, as there are many old pieces of equipment in the former 170,000-square-foot Golden Guernsey facility, 2101 Delafield St.

Lifeway produces dairy products known as kefir and organic kefir, a dairy beverage that contains live and active probiotic cultures plus ProBoost. The company produces a variety of frozen kefir and probiotic cheese products.

Financially, Lifeway is in good shape. Lifeway Foods Inc. was off to a strong start in 2013 as gross sales results for the first quarter increased by about 27 percent to $27.4 million compared to $21.6 million in the same period last year.

Total consolidated net sales increased by about 27 percent to $24.7 million during the three-month period that ended March 31 from $19.4 million during the same three-month period in 2012.

If Smolyansky and her team reach their new target date, the facility would open after having been closed for nearly12 months. It abruptly shut down in early January.

Smolyansky said in an interview after the auction that she would try to rehire as many as the 112 employees who were left unemployed after the closing.

Lifeway Foods purchased the plant for $7.4 million and the acquisition more than triples Lifeway's production capacity.

While similar production could take place inside the facility, it will be different not having the "Golden Guernsey" trucks outside the building. Golden Guernsey, after experiencing substantial growth, moved from its Milwaukee location to Waukesha in 1955.

But it underwent ownership changes in recent years.

Dean Foods acquired the De Pere and Waukesha plants from Foremost Farms USA of Baraboo in 2009 for $35 million. Two years later, however, Open Gate Capital, a Los Angeles private equity firm, bought Golden Guernsey after Dean Foods was required to sell the plant to settle antitrust concerns.

But in January, the firm shut the plant's doors and sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection for Golden Guernsey in Delaware bankruptcy court.

Besides the jobs that were lost, the closing left schools and other grocery stores who utilize Golden Guernsey products looking for alternatives.

However, the thousands of dairy products that were in the building (many of which were still fresh) were donated to food pantries across the state, including the Food Pantry of Waukesha County.