Yoplait plans plant expansion

REED CITY — Mention the name Yoplait in Reed City and people listen ... and talk.

The Reed City community has been buzzing for months with rumors. There were the rumors about the company spending billions to buy the Yoplait name. There were rumors that they had been renting it for years — from the French it was said. There were rumors that if they didn’t buy the name, they’d shut down, or move away, or ... or ... or ...

Then there was the question of whether or not the addition of a milk-processing facility would ever be a reality. General Mills had the property. They had the plan.

But what if they shut down? What if all those people lost their jobs? What if their huge positive economic impact on the City of Reed City, Osceola County and surrounding cities and counties just abruptly ended. What if the thousands and thousands of dollars of grant money enabling schools throughout this county and surrounding counties to start or continue programs that helped so many kids ended tomorrow ended tomorrow, because Yoplait was no more.

Whatever the rumor, the Yoplait name is alive and well in Reed City and construction of the new nearly $20 million processing plant is full steam ahead.

It’s said that this will be the first such yogurt company in the US to have its own milk processing plant on site, and according to Reed City City Manager Ron Marek, and confirmed by General Mills corporate office, that move to build the processing plant here will save the company an estimated million miles a year in transporting milk elsewhere.

Marek had nothing but praise for the General Mills/Yoplait, saying it has taken considerable time to work out some of the details, but the future for the company, the community and the whole is remarkable.

He said the announcement comes after months of negotiations, many steps, and a whole lot of work by a whole lot of people.

“We’re excited.” The grin on his face said “excited” was an understatement.

Marek said certain properties had to be acquired, including Reed City Glass, a portion of the alley next to that location, as well as a portion to the north of Rite Aid. Those properties had to be zoned industrial, along with a part of Slosson in order to gain approval as an industrial district and eligible for certain things.

Some setback variances to property lines had to be approved by the zoning board of appeals. Next was getting approval for the company’s site plan, and Marek said notices were sent out to anyone within 300 feet of the location.

He noted that part of a planning commission hearing dealt with truck routes, numbers, and the complete site plan project. The result? Approval. The planning commission made the recommendation the council approved it, and the zoning decision, he said, is now final.

Marek said the council then met to formalize it with General Mills/Yoplait, for tax abatement approval.

He said the affect the company has had on “...our city has been very positive, the tax base, providing jobs, and this expansion will help this division be more competitive with the other three plants with everything they do.” He said it also brings additional security to having this plant remain in Reed City. “They’ve been wonderful, and we have to work with them. We are.”

Marek said the company covered “our attorney’s work for all this paperwork, and there’s a pipeline we have to run and they’re picking up the tab. They have been very, very good to work with through all of this.”

He noted Mike Fox, John Woodworth, Jim Dawson and Jim Repo “worked very closely with us, and they were a first class act all the way. A lot of people bully their way, but they were truly concerned about everything, and the matter of truck traffic and we were concerned as well.” Marek said the city and company will work together on truck routing, and will make some concessions to make it work.”

He added that the company is “truly concerned about this community and its residents.”

Two days after approval, General Mills/Yoplait was breaking ground.

As rumors continued to flow, and the community was still wondering the what’s and the what if’s, many talked about how much Yoplait’s employees have provided outreach to the community, not only in grant money, but also people power at various events, and gathering food to donate to area food pantries, as well as working at the recycling center throughout the year in their spare time.

The project is expected to be completed in a year.

As far as the name, it was announced by General Mills on March 18, that the company had entered into exclusive negotiations with PAI Partners and Sodiaal to purchase interests in Yoplait S.A.S., and affiliated companies.

The news release indicated that “under the proposed transaction, General Mills will partner with Sodiaal in expanding and growing with the Yoplait brand and businesses in France, Europe and around the world.

“General Mills and Sodiaal have been successful business partners for decades. General Mills has licensed the Yoplait brand since 1977, and is Yoplait’s largest licensee. It has grown its Yoplait business to the clear leadership position in yoghurts in the United States, one of the world’s largest fresh dairy markets.”

Sodiall, the leading French dairy cooperative, will hold the remaining interests.

In response to inquiries about this matter, Sheila Kley, manager of the General Mills, Corporate Public Relations Office, sent a statement: “Yoplait is a brand that we know very well - and yogurt is a global category in which General Mills has been very successful. We see tremendous potential in the Yoplait brand and tremendous growth potential in yoghurt globally.”