by Cathy Proctor, Reporter-Denver Business Journal
What does Denver’s Leprino Foods Co., the world’s biggest mozzarella cheese maker, mean for Colorado’s dairy industry?
That’s easy, according to people who work in that sector of the state’s $40-billion-a-year agriculture industry.
“Without Leprino, the Colorado dairy industry would be about one-third smaller,” said Rick Podtburg, chairman of the board of the Western Dairy Association and managing partner of Longs Peak Dairy, which has two dairy farms near Pierce, 7,000 dairy cows and 115 employees.
There are about 135,000 dairy cows in Colorado, up about 30,000 cows in the last 10 years, largely due to Leprino’s expansion in the state, Podtburg said.
He figures about 90 percent of the state’s dairy cows are in the northeastern part of the state. That’s because Leprino has two processing plants in northeastern Colorado, one in Fort Morgan and a new plant that opened in 2011 in Greeley.
Between 65 percent and 70 percent of all the milk produced in Colorado ends up in the Leprino plants, said Cindy Haren, president and CEO of the Western Dairy Association.
In addition to being the world’s biggest producer of mozzarella cheese, the Denver-based company also makes provolone, reduced-fat cheddar, reduced-fat Monterey Jack and Mexican cheese blends.
Leprino is a member of a growing family of big food companies that have either grown up in the Denver-Boulder-Greeley area, or chosen to make the area its headquarters.
Having the group of big food companies in Colorado raises the bar for the state’s agriculture industry, Haren said.
“We have these world-class companies right here, so for our farmers and ranchers also have to be really good producers, they have to have good food safety protocols and everything else to supply these companies,” Haren said. “That’s why Colorado is on the map as a food and ag state."
For Colorado’s dairy industry, Leprino’s decision to put its plants in the state has led to growing numbers of dairy cows.
“Milk can’t be transported very far because it [transportation costs] are so expensive,” Podtburg said. “Leprino created tremendous opportunities by building that plant in Greeley.”
Currently the Greeley plant can handle about 4.8 million pounds of milk per day, and can be expanded to handle 8 million pounds per day of milk, Podtburg said.
Source: American City Business Journals/Denver/ENERGYINC blog