Many Lynn residents have been left with a sour taste in their mouth after learning that the Garelick Farms manufacturing plant on the Lynnway will close this fall.
Dean Foods, the parent company of Garelick Farms, blamed the closure on falling milk sales when making the announcement to employees on Tuesday. Garelick, a 90-year-old milk and dairy company, is the seventh largest employer in Lynn, and an estimated 300 workers are expected to lose their jobs.
Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee said he was shocked by the news, and had not heard directly from Dean Foods, which is one of the nation’s largest dairy operators. The Dallas-based company controls 58 brands of dairy, juice, and ice cream products across the country including Land O’Lakes, TruMoo, and Friendly’s ice cream products sold in retail stores.
McGee, who has been in office for just over four months, campaigned on a platform of revitalizing Lynn for its 92,000 residents. He has been frustrated by his inability to connect with anyone from Dean Foods to understand the company’s plans for both the staff and the building, which sits on more than 10 acres on the Lynn waterfront.
“I learned from employees that they are closing,” McGee said. “This is going to be a big loss . . . and will have a ripple effect on our businesses and schools.” All 28 of Lynn’s public schools serve Garelick milk, he said, and the company is a major contributor to the city’s tax base. He said that he had reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Career Services Rapid Response Team to begin coordinating efforts to help displaced workers.
An employee at the plant on Wednesday, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said that company executives had told staffers that they were “losing customers and the volume of sales was going down.” The employee, who said they had worked for the company for 13 years, said they were in discussions about severance payments, but could not elaborate.
The Daily Item in Lynn first reported the news of the plant’s closure on Tuesday. James Cowdell, executive director of Lynn’s Economic Development Industrial Corporation, told the newspaper he confirmed the plant’s closure with its general manager, Aubrey Leake. He said Leake told him it was one of several US plants slated for closure.
“This came out of the blue,” Cowdell told the Item. “We had no notice and we were told today this is not a Lynn problem, rather it’s the result as a nationwide decrease in milk consumption.”
Both Garelick Farms and Dean Foods did not respond to requests for comment.
In March, Dean Foods began to notify distributors that it would be severing contracts at the end of May due to “a surplus of raw milk at a time when the public already is consuming less fluid milk.” The average American now drinks 18 gallons of milk a year, according to the US Department of Agriculture, down from a high of 30 gallons a year in the 1970s.
In an earnings report released earlier this month, Dean Foods chief executive Ralph Scozzafava said that the company was “right-sizing” its network of distributors in an effort to save the company more than $150 million by 2020. The company has a market cap of over $868 million. In the last few days, multiple dairies in Upstate New York, Indiana, and Tennessee also announced that their contracts with Dean Foods were not renewed and plants would be closed.
Garelick Farms first opened as West Lynn Creamery in 1928, and eventually grew its operations to produce more than 1 million quarts a day, employing more than 850 workers and making more than $300 million in annual revenue. By 1987, it was the “fourth-largest single milk plant in the country and the leading manufacturer and distributor of dairy products in the Northeast,” according to the website for the Lynn Museum and Historical Society. But consolidation in the milk market in the late 1990s led to West Lynn Creamery being acquired by Dean Foods in 1998, and it became one of several regional creameries operated by the company. Dean Foods also includes Cumberland Farms, Nature's Best Dairy, and Garelick Farms. The former West Lynn Creamery has operated under the Garelick name for nearly two decades.
Peter Capano, a Lynn city councilor who represents Ward 6, where the plant is located, said that the city has had numerous complaints about “obnoxious odors” coming from the plant since it has been owned by Dean Foods. “They haven’t been a good neighbor,” he said.
So Capano said he wasn’t surprised that the company had decided to cut its ties with Lynn so abruptly. “Some of these big companies have made all their money from downsizing. They put no thought into the human aspect.”Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.