‘It’s business as usual’ for Springfield’s Reiter Dairy after parent company declares bankruptcy

Dean Foods representatives said they do not anticipate any major changes at its Springfield-based Reiter Dairy plant, despite the parent company declaring bankruptcy this week.

Dean Foods, which is the largest dairy producer in the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday. The filing will allow the business to stay operational, reorganize its debt and continue to fund pensions.

Anne Divjak, a spokesperson with Dean Foods, told the News-Sun in an email on Wednesday that “it’s business as usual” for the company and its brands, including Reiter.

“Products from the Dean Foods family of brands, including Reiter Dairy, will continue to be available where consumers usually shop,” she said. “Any future decisions regarding our plants will be based, as always, on market conditions and the needs of the business.”

She said there are close to 200 people employed at Reiter’s Springfield plant, which is located on Commerce Circle.

Tom Franzen, Director of Economic Development for the City of Springfield, said Reiter is one of the strongest employers in the area’s food sector. He said company officials told him on Wednesday that the Springfield plant would continue to operate and they do not anticipate any major changes at this time.

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Food production plays a significant role in Clark County’s economy. Along with Reiter, Springfield is also the home of companies like Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc., Woeber’s Mustard and Gordon Food Services.

Clark County Commission President Melanie Flax Wilt said food and agriculture is the largest employer in the county.

“That is everything from the farmers in the field to those who serve food in restaurants,” she said.

The county’s geographical location has made it an attractive destination for food processing and distribution companies. With major interstates cutting through, Wilt said the county is appealing to companies that specialize in fresh produce and perishable goods.

That includes Reiter, which was founded in Akron in 1933. According to its website, the company acquired more than 20 dairies across northern Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s and eventually expanded into producing refrigerated and frozen food products.

The company expanded to southern Ohio when it acquired a milk plant and distribution center in Springfield.

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However, sales for cow’s milk has declined over the past years as more consumers are seeking less sugary or plant-based alternatives. CNN reported that sales for cow’s milk in the past 52 weeks, ending on Oct. 26 was around $12 billion. A decline from the $15 billion reported during a similar period in 2015.

Wilt said the number of commercial dairy farms in Clark County has decreased over the past decades. She said that she knows of two commercial dairy farms still operating in the county, not including Young’s Jersey Dairy.

Nationally, a decrease in milk consumption has lead to a 7% decrease in sales for Dean Foods in the first half of the year. The Dallas-based company also saw a 14% drop in profits and its stock has lost 80% of its value this year, according to CNN reporting on Tuesday.

“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” said Eric Beringause, Dean Foods president and CEO, in a statement on Tuesday.

“Importantly, we are continuing to provide customers with an uninterrupted supply of high-quality dairy products, as well as supporting our dairy suppliers and other partners,” he added.

Dean Foods also announced on Tuesday that it may sell all its assets to the Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative owned by thousands of farmers. Dean Foods has approximately 15,000 employees and operates dozens of dairy processing facilities across the country, the company reported.

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