CHILTON, Wis. (WBAY) - A cheese plant in Chilton is closing due to "significant challenges" at the facility.
Chilton Foremost Farms facility. May 19, 2020. (WBAY Photo)
Foremost Farms USA informed the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that it planned to permanently close the Chilton Facility, W3286 County Road F.
The decision impacts 50 employees.
Layoffs are scheduled for July 17.
"We regret to inform you that Foremost Farms USA’s business operations have been facing significant challenges from a plant layout, infrastructure, and building and equipment age perspective at its Chilton facility. In addition, work order volumes from clients have significantly decreased in a short period due to COVID-19, creating overcapacity of product and a significant and sudden drop in demand for production," reads a letter provided to DWD.
"We saw on the cheese side and on the dairy side that the food service market vanished in a matter of days really back in March," said John Umhoefer, executive director of Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. "There were members we've had that were primarily food service focus that found the orders for their product vanish and so they had to scramble."
The plant makes Italian cheeses that are sold in the foodservice market for sandwiches.
“We don’t see an immediate bounce back in cheese orders from food service clients serviced by the location,” said Schlafer.
"I think that's fair. I think food service is not gonna come roaring back. I think you're seeing people refilling, literally refilling their coolers at restaurants now and we will see probably a lull because then they'll have to move that product out," said Umhoefer. "It's gonna be difficult in the short term, but the price of cheese at wholesale, for example, has risen back up to its pre-COVID-19 levels so that's good to see."
The letter says Foremost Farms "will ensure that all employees be paid all earned wages and agreed upon benefits at the time of their termination."
“This is not a reflection on our employees in Chilton. This is a business decision that has nothing to do with their performance, which has been excellent. We are committed to treating our employees with respect and dignity and will be working with them through this transition," said Greg Schlafer, President & CEO.
There is no formal employee union at the facility. There is an employee committee.
Chilton Mayor Thomas Reinl said he was devastated to hear of the cheese factory closing because his father worked there, but he is confident people will be able to find another job.
"There are other cheese factories around, such as Sargento or Ornua, that are always looking for help," said Reinl.
The Chilton plant was built in the 1940s.