Plant manager says Morningstar facility shouldn’t be affected by Dean Foods layoffs

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Oct. 4, 2007 - Dean Foods' plans to lay off  workers shouldn't affect anyone at the Morningstar Foods plant in Sulphur Springs, the local plant manager said today.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Morningstar Foods Human Resource Manager Scott Brown (left) and Plant Manager Joe Wallace with the 2005 Employer of the Year Award, given to Morningstar Foods Inc. by the Northeast Texas Work Force Board. Wallace said today plans for layoffs by Dean Foods won’t impact the local plant, which has essentially doubled in size over the past four years.

Quite the contrary — they're looking for people to fill new and existing jobs at the manufacturing facility.

"We do not foresee any kind of layoffs," said Joe Wallace, plant manager. "Over the past four or five years, this plant has doubled in size, in product and people."

Dean Foods Co., the nation’s largest dairy producer, scaled back its profit forecast for the year Wednesday, saying record-high milk prices are hurting sales and causing consumers to switch from name brands to cheaper private-labels products.

The company also said Tuesday it plans to cut 600 to 700 jobs, more than 2 percent of its work force.

But that shouldn't have an impact in Sulphur Springs, where the facility generates a wide variety of extended shelf life, or ESL, and asceptic products (think soft serve ice cream mixes and those little packets of coffee creamer in a bowl at the diner).

The processes and the product mix in Sulphur Springs are a lot different from most of Dean's dairy processing plants, Wallace indicated.

"With the volume we run and distribute, this announcement is having no impact on this facility, and probably other Morningstar facilities, as well," he said. "Even through commodity prices are high right now, the demand for our product is tremendous."

The plant was built in 1965 as the Lamar Creamery, a 13,500 square foot fluid dairy processing facility.

Today, the Morningstar plant covers some 61,000 square feet and includes a distribution center that serves much of the central U.S., the East and West coasts, and recently began moving products to Mexico.

The brand labels that come out of Sulphur Springs are recognizable, like International Delight coffee creamer, Land O' Lakes and Great Value products. If you've ever had soft-serve ice cream at McDonald's, Burger King, Jack-in-the-Box or any number of other fast food outlets, it probably came from here.

"We produce just about everybody's soft-serve mix except for Dairy Queen," Wallace said.

The completion of the distribution center four years ago has played a part in the plant's growth. When the expansion was completed in September of 2003, the facility distributed about 1.2 million cases of product per month, and employed about 150 people.

Today, they ship approximately 1.7 million cases monthly, and the payroll has grown to about 270 regular employees and another 30 temporary employees.

And Morningstar has been recognized as a pretty good place to work, too — in 2005 the company was named Employer of the Year by the Northeast Texas Work Force Board.

For a facility sometimes referred to as "the plant next to Ocean Spray," Morningstar may be the most overlooked major employer in Sulphur Springs.

"Dean Foods is a good company to work for, and Morningstar invests a lot in automation and is on the cutting edge of dairy products," Wallace said. "It's exciting to see the growth, and the company has invested a lot of capital here."

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