The world’s largest cheese maker is now hoping to capitalize on America’s fastest growing cheese product by expanding its plant in Tulare. Lactalis, the world’s largest cheese maker, filed plans with the city earlier this month to expand the cheese plant on Highway 99 it acquired in a merger with Kraft in 2021. The company wants to add a new 38,300 square foot building that will produce and package feta cheese. Construction is expected to start soon and be ready for use by December. It will operate on a 24/7 schedule and hire some 22 new employees, according to Lactalis.
The new facility could be the first large commercial production of feta cheese in California other than boutique and artisanal makers. Lactalis already markets its brands of feta cheese under various labels including its top seller, President.
Feta cheese is a pickled curd cheese with a salty and tangy taste due to its coupling with brine solution. Popular in Greek cooking the product has taken off in the US (like Greek yogurt) and now is expanding rapidly due to increased use in the fast food industry. In comparison with other cheeses, Feta is a low-fat variety often used on salads and Mediterranean dishes. In Europe and elsewhere, feta cheese is often a blend of cow milk with goat or sheep milk. Here it will be just cow’s milk.
A recent report says “The global feta cheese market size was valued at $10.5 billion in 2019, and is anticipated to reach $15.6 billion by 2028, with a [compound annual growth rate] of 5.7% during the forecast period. The market is expected to exhibit an incremental revenue opportunity of $5.0 billion from 2019 to 2028.”
Already the world’s leader in cheese production, Lactalis acquired a portfolio of iconic cheese brands from Kraft including Cracker Barrel, Breakstone’s, Knudsen, Hoffman’s and a perpetual license for the use of the Kraft brand in natural, grated and international cheeses. Lactalis also acquired the Cheez Whiz brand outside the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and the Philippines and a license for the use of the Velveeta brand in natural and international cheeses. The acquisition included approximately 750 employees and three production facilities located in Tulare, Calif., Walton, N.Y. and Wausau, Wisc. The Kraft/Lactalis plant in Tulare currently employs around 250 people to make mozzarella and parmesan varieties and now feta.
In 2021 before the acquisition of Kraft, the U.S. Department of Justice required Lactalis to divest itself of Kraft’s Athenos, the top selling feta cheese brand in the U.S., and Polly-O brands. They did that. Now Athenos is owned by a Swiss-based company called The Emmi Group.
The Tulare plant and Lactalis’ other U.S. businesses are operating as Lactalis Heritage Dairy, a newly formed division of Lactalis based in Chicago. Groupe Lactalis, the world’s leading dairy group, is a French-family business founded in 1933 in Laval, France. Present in 51 countries, with 266 dairies and cheese dairies throughout the world, its 85,000 employees promote milk in all its forms: cheese, drinking milk, yogurts, butters and creams, dairy ingredients and nutrition. The company also offers products from emblematic international brands such as Président, Galbani and Parmalat.