The Oak Farms milk plant in Waco will cease production and eliminate 150 positions within the next 60 to 90 days, its Dallas-based parent announced Wednesday.
“We will move the current production volume to other regional Dean Foods facilities in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and Oak Farms products will continue to be available in Waco,” the company, which recently shuttered a milk plant in Shreveport, La., said in a prepared statement.
Oak Farms, 1148 Faulkner Lane in East Waco, will keep about 25 positions for local distribution and sales in Waco.
“We are committed to helping employees find new jobs during this transition,” the company said.
Kris Collins, director of business retention and expansion for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview that the chamber “is saddened to hear they are ceasing production, and we will help in any way we can the employees who face transition.”
She said she had heard of the Shreveport plant closing, which eliminated 170 jobs, but also had heard some of that plant’s work may relocate to Waco.
That reportedly will not happen, as Dean Foods continues to re-engineer itself with plant closings and division spinoffs.
“We regret the impact that this decision will have on our employees and our community,” Dean Foods said in its release. “The decision to eliminate jobs in any part of our business is never an easy one. We need to improve our operations capability, and operating fewer plants will help us streamline operations.”
The statement added the decision to cease operations “does not reflect the quality of work performed by our employees, but the competitive nature of the workplace.”
In its recently published 2012 annual report, the dairy processor vowed to continue “disciplined cost management” to make up for financial challenges it expects due to losing a portion of its private-label milk business to other suppliers. These steps reportedly include closing 10 to 15 percent of its plants.
Jamaison Schuler, a spokesman for Dean Foods, said in a phone interview the Waco facility dates back to 1925 and was acquired by Dean Foods in 2001.
It distributed fluid milk, juices and teas, and will continue to provide those products to local retailers, though they will not be made in Waco.
Schuler said Dean Foods operates a network of about 75 plants under 50 different regional labels, with Oak Farms dominant in Texas.
He said the company also has closed plants in Maine and Southern California, as it seeks ways to “maximize efficiency and reduce redundancy and overlap.”
Dean Foods in January sold its Morningstar Foods business, which makes cottage cheese, ice cream mix and coffee creamers.
It also is selling White Wave, which makes the Horizon line of organic dairy goods and Silk soy products. Proceeds from those sales will help reduce the company’s debt.
This is the second bout of bad news at Oak Farms in Waco this month. It suffered a 30,000-gallon raw milk spill on June 4, which required a response from Grones Environmental and fire and police personnel.
The spill resulted from a release valve on a large milk silo being accidentally opened, a company spokeswoman said.
Oak Farms’ announcement of layoffs comes on the heels of Providence Healthcare Network’s decision to eliminate 52 positions, while Sterling Trust recently confirmed it will ax nearly 100 local jobs as it relocates most of its Waco operations to Ohio.