February 1

Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy sold to farmer cooperative

The 93-year-old company says it plans no layoffs of its 200 employees.

By Mary Pols mpols@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Oakhurst Dairy, which has been owned by a Maine family since the company was founded in 1921, has been sold to a national cooperative owned by farmers.

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Nahum Frank works in production.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Containers are filled with eggnog on a production line at Oakhurst Dairy on Forest Avenue in Portland. The company employs 200 workers.

John Ewing/File Photo

Additional Photos Below

At a glance: Oakhurst and Dairy Farmers of America

OAKHURST DAIRY

OWNERSHIP: Third-generation Bennett family ownership since 1921

EMPLOYEES: About 200

ANNUAL SALES: About $110 million

PRODUCTS: Milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, juices, egg nog, butter and buttermilk

PLANTS: Portland

DAIRY FARMERS OF AMERICA

OWNERSHIP: Formed in 1998, it’s a cooperative owned by more than 13,000 members on about 8,000 farms in 48 states.

EMPLOYEES: About 4,000

ANNUAL SALES: $12.1 billion in 2012

PRODUCTS: Milk, ice cream, cheese, nonfat dry milk powder, skim milk powder and sweetened condensed milk

PLANTS: 31 plants nationwide

SOURCE: Company websites

Oakhurst was acquired by Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative owned by more than 8,000 farms in 48 states. The deal, negotiated for about eight to nine months, closed Friday.

The Portland-based company said it will continue to get its milk from the 70 independent Maine farmers who now supply it. Milk products will still be processed and bottled at the company’s plant on Forest Avenue. And Oakhurst’s milk supply will not be mixed with any other products from Dairy Farmers of America, the company said.

None of Oakhurst’s 200 employees – who were told of the acquisition in meetings held early Friday – will be laid off, the company said.

“Oakhurst milk will continue to be Maine’s milk and distributed throughout northern New England,” said Bill Bennett, chairman of Oakhurst’s board of directors. “Nothing has changed but the ownership.”

Farmers who sell to Oakhurst, however, said they are wary about how the sale will affect the employees and the company’s suppliers.

“That is what they always say,” said Tim Leary, whose Leary Farm in Saco sells its milk to Oakhurst. “Any time there is a change, you wonder how things are going to shake out.”

Oakhurst Dairy was founded in 1921, after Stanley T. Bennett bought a dairy on Woodford Street in Portland from the Leadbetter family. A grove of oak trees near that dairy gave Bennett the idea for the company’s name. The dairy is now based at 364 Forest Ave.

While its sole manufacturing facility is in Portland, the company operates three distribution facilities in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Oakhurst’s products include milk, cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, egg nog, butter, ice cream mixes, juices, teas and water.

Oakhurst’s annual sales are estimated to be $110 million. Dairy Farmers of America’s sales were $12.1 billion in 2012.

Employees took the news in stride Friday, comforted by the company’s insistence that jobs, products and quality would not change, said Nahum Frank, who works in production at the plant on Forest Avenue.

“Everything stays the same – the quality of the products, the people. Nothing really changes,” Frank said. “We’ll be using the same farmers, working with the same family members and hopefully expanding over the years.”

Cathy Pesce, a customer service worker, said she expects many calls from consumers initially, wondering about potential changes.

“I expect a lot of questions. But as long as they see the Oakhurst name isn’t changing and the product isn’t changing, people will be happy,” Pesce said.

Tim Ahern, a route sales driver for Oakhurst, said he believes the acquisition will be good for the company and give it more financial resources.

“It gives us a lot of clout,” he said.

The decision to sell wasn’t an easy one, Bennett said in a conference call Thursday night with executives from both companies.

“It took a while to make the decision,” he said. “But it was the right time.”

Although Oakhurst is a third-generation family-owned business, Bennett said, his family is growing older and there was no one in line to lead the company on a daily basis.

His brother, John Bennett, and Tom Brigham will continue in their roles as co-presidents of Oakhurst.

About 80 percent of Maine’s businesses are family-owned, according to the nonprofit Institute for Family-Owned Businesses in Brunswick. Less than 30 percent survive to the second generation and less than 13 percent make it to the third generation.

NO SURPRISE TO MOST FARMERS

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Tim Ahern is a driver for Oakhurst.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Cathy Pesce works in customer service.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Tim Leary stands with some of the 45 dairy cows in the “small potatoes” herd he keeps at his farm in Saco. He is one of 70 independent Maine dairy farmers providing milk to Oakhurst Dairy.

Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer



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