Gay Lea Foods understands the community’s concerns about the closing of Thornloe Cheese. We are sharing the following information to ensure up-to-date, transparent answers to questions received from the community.
On Monday, October 30, our co-operative informed employees and government and community leaders of our decision to close Thornloe Cheese in response to an urgent, real and independently confirmed food safety risk. The affected product was first identified in internal quality testing and did not leave the facility, so there was no risk to public health. Following an assessment, experts determined the plant must be closed, because much of the cheesemaking equipment required immediate replacement.
It is estimated new equipment would cost approximately $10 million and take 12 to 18 months to purchase, test and install, which means the facility would be closed for that period in any eventuality (except for grass-fed skimming, which continues and poses no food safety risk).
Investing a large sum that would generate virtually no return is not in the best interests of our 1,400 farmer members across Ontario and Manitoba. Importantly, it would also limit our ability to invest in other Gay Lea Foods facilities that support Canada’s dairy industry.
Gay Lea Foods purchased Thornloe Cheese four years ago, with the intent to support dairy processing in Northern Ontario. We knew the facility was in poor physical condition and did not perform well financially. We made significant investments in the structure of the Thornloe Cheese building to ensure it was safe. We also made investments to improve sales and marketing in the hope of improving financial results.
Unfortunately, the recent food safety issue and physical condition of the facility interrupted these efforts and resulted in the necessary closing of the plant.
Yes. As we have said publicly, and privately in conversations with community groups and local leaders, our preference is to sell the facility to a dairy operator if there is an interested buyer. Gay Lea Foods is willing to sell the facility, the Thornloe Cheese brand, and the plant supply quota, at a price that advantages a potential buyer.
We have received a few calls about the facility. These discussions are at a very preliminary stage.
We encourage interested buyers to contact us at email@example.com
Yes. Gay Lea Foods will sell any equipment in good working condition. However, we will not sell any equipment that represents a food safety risk. Much of the equipment in this plant is decades old, has been repaired dozens of times, and is no longer safe.
Yes. As we have said publicly, and privately in conversations with community groups and local leaders, we are willing to sell the plant supply quota to a buyer who will operate a local dairy facility. In such a situation, we would also work with a buyer to support an application to Dairy Farmers of Ontario to transfer the plant supply quota to a new owner.
Pricing information will be shared with a buyer who is interested in operating the plant as a dairy facility. Our goal is to help a buyer be successful. As promised, Gay Lea Foods has not made any changes to the facility to allow a buyer the opportunity to conduct a full and thorough inspection.
At this point, no, because from the outset, we promised the community we would provide an opportunity for a buyer to step forward. However, it is in no one’s interest for the plant to sit idle for a lengthy period. A deadline will be established based on potential buyer interest.
Gay Lea Foods understands Thornloe Cheese is a point of community pride, which is why we purchased the facility in 2019. Unfortunately, current circumstances intervened. We are making our best effort to determine if there is a way to continue the legacy of Thornloe Cheese under new ownership. We are hopeful of a positive outcome, but are very early in the process, and it will take time to determine if there is a buyer.
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