Skip to content

Feds ready to step in to try and save Thornloe Cheese

'FedNor stands ready to support the upgrades if the company chooses to do so'
The Thornloe Cheese store on Highway 11 is closed.

A spokesman for the minister responsible for FedNor, MP Patty Hajdu says the government will look at putting up money to save the iconic business.

“This is a heartbreaking decision that will impact dozens of families in our region," Director of Communications Simon Ross told BayToday.

"We sincerely hope Gay Lea Foods will reconsider its decision and make the investments necessary to keep the facility working. The Government of Canada, through FedNor, stands ready to support the upgrades if the company chooses to do so. We have been here in the past with over $600,000 of investments to support the business, including for facility upgrades, and we are ready to continue.”

See: Save Thornloe Cheese committee formed

A committee to save Thornloe has already had one meeting with Gay Lea representatives says Mike Langdon, a vice president of Gay Lea Foods Co-operative.

"We had a conversation with them on Monday. It was very, very productive, a very cordial conversation. We were able to explain our concerns about the viability of the facility, but also make our commitments in terms of supporting another buyer."

Langdon says the company has investigated all avenues, including government assistance, but it still doesn't add up given their assessment that the plant is not currently safe and that's going to cost about $10 million to fix.

He says when they shut the plant down for evaluation in mid-September, they looked at three options.

"One was to invest in the facility, and could we find a way to do that affordably? Secondly, could we secure government funding that would offset enough of the costs to make the plant viable, and then finally, could we repurpose the facility to do something else?

"What you're left with at the end of the day is a plant that is barely above breakeven for profitability and for that reason, we could not see a path to make the plant viable for the long term even with government funding. We looked at a number of programs, we did our homework and our research and ultimately where we came out was that, because of the profitability of the plant, at the end of the day we couldn't see a way to make it viable, even with the government."

Langdon says  Gay Lea is willing to offer another group a highly advantaged sale price on the plant itself, and is willing to sell the milk quota attached to the plant.

"We are willing to include all of the standard operating procedures and recipes associated with the plant, and we're even willing to offer our operational expertise in helping the buyer understand what would actually be necessary to bring the plant up to food-safe standards. We're willing to do all of those things. and it's something that we were happy to say publicly. The only thing that we are not willing to do is reopen a plant that is not food-safe. The other thing is, if we were to sell the plant we would not be selling any unsafe equipment.

"The reason we shut the plant down for an assessment was just food safety. Our guiding principle in all of this must be food safety. It's just not something on which we're willing to compromise. We think that's a responsible decision."

Langdon says Gay Lea hasn't put a price tag on the plant for a number of reasons, including what the farmer's committee actually wants. If they decide to go forward he assumes they want the plant and the milk quota, but do they also want the Thornloe brand?

"Our commitment to the Farmers Committee is that we are willing to be extremely reasonable. Our goal is not to maximize our return. If there is a community group that's interested in operating this plant, we are committed to making it possible and easier for them to do so."

But he explains there is no short-term pressure for a new group to do anything, as Gay Lea is committed to leaving the plant "absolutely untouched" for several months if needed, to allow prospective buyers to come in to do their due diligence, evaluate the facility, to talk with Gay Lea about concerns with the equipment.

"We're hopeful that they can find an interested buyer and if so, we're willing to be extremely accommodating and try to make that sale happen and help them get started."

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
Read more

Reader Feedback