Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Soy Milk Becomes Liquid Gold for Ailing Dairy Factory; Makers of Silk Bought the Local Building and Increased Production

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Soy Milk Becomes Liquid Gold for Ailing Dairy Factory; Makers of Silk Bought the Local Building and Increased Production

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES CANNON

One of the region's last dairy factories was saved by an unlikely legume: the soybean.

WhiteWave Foods, the producers of Silk Soymilk, purchased the failing Morningstar dairy factory in 2003, and since then the plant has experienced unprecedented growth.

"In 2003 the plant was scheduled to close and we laid off about a third of the workforce," said plant manager John Jennings. "The problem wasn't the workers or our methods, it was primarily due to low volume and a lack of new capital."

Shortly after WhiteWave took over the factory at 2198 W. Beaver St., it purchased the small building adjacent to the plant. That building became a mini-factory that extracted the liquid from the soybean, rather than having the soy liquid trucked in to be processed.

Now, every aspect associated with creating Silk is performed on site.

Since WhiteWave's initial investment of more than $10 million, the plant has increased annual production from 6 million gallons of dairy product to more than 18 million gallons of combined dairy and soy product; it has increased operational hours from three days a week to 24/7 and has hired an additional 20 employees, for a total of 95.

However, the Silk factory is not content to stand still, Jennings said.

"By the beginning [of the second quarter] of 2010 we are set to receive a new piece of equipment that will allow us to produce an additional 5 million gallons a year," he said. "The best part about it, though, is that we will be hiring new people. In bad economic times, it's always nice to be hiring people."

When discussions began about expanding the WhiteWave brand, the Jacksonville facility was a prime candidate, said Luana Hancock, a spokesperson for the company said.

"The plant is in close proximity of some of our largest customers, and its location gave us the ability to serve the Southeast and state of Florida cost-effectively," she said.

The other reason, she said, was Morningstar was also a subsidiary of Dean Foods, the same parent company that owns WhiteWave Foods.

"Given our Silk brand's volume growth at the time, and the process required for producing soy milk, there was a desire and cost-benefit to producing Silk in a plant that was less complex than some of our existing WhiteWave plants," Hancock said. …

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