What's Next for Burned-Out Saputo Plant? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

What's Next for Burned-Out Saputo Plant?

South Burlington, Vermont - November 18, 2008

Many pizza makers are getting the hang of working with new ingredients. Mama Mia's had to change its mozzarella, because the cheese they used to sprinkle on their pies came from the Saputo plant in Hinesburg.

Pizza maker Dan Isabel explains the cheese he buys now is different than the Vermont cheese, including "the way it melts, the way it blends."

The plant was heavily damaged in a fire in September, and its Canadian owners decided not to re-open, leaving 80 workers jobless. Dairy producer and Agri-Mark co-op board member Paul Doton says, "I hope something will go in there."

Saputo used to take at least ten percent of Vermont's milk. Agri-Mark is now trucking that to a plant in Massachusetts where it's turned into butter and powdered milk. Already more than half of Vermont's milk is shipped out-of-state for processing. If that could happen closer to home, keeping transportation costs down, it would be better for farmers.

Paul Doton says, "There are other plants further west, but there's a larger cost that's born by the co-ops or whoever owns that milk. The co-ops are owned by the members, so ultimately the members will get less return."

The town of Hinesburg is working with the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation to help find a new business that could re-outfit the old Saputo shell and start manufacturing again. State agriculture officials say one problem with Saputo was their mozzarella was a commodity that could have been made anywhere. Basically, it didn't cash in on the high value associated with the Vermont name.

Roger Allbee, the Vermont Agriculture Secretary, explains, "Interestingly enough, there are some companies that want to come to Vermont to produce product. We have a company that wants to come to Brattleboro to produce yogurt, and we have new companies going into Hardwick. TrueYogurt is going to make product up there."

He's optimistic a similar business will move into Hinesburg and bring back jobs, possibly establishing a place where farmers can ship their milk.

For now, a lot of pizza lovers around here are just settling for Wisconsin mozzarella.

Hinesburg has a meeting scheduled with GBIC on December 10th to discuss how to move forward with finding a new resident for the plant.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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