Alto Dairy Cooperative announced that its members approved the sale of its assets to Saputo Cheese USA Inc. for total consideration of $160 million. The transaction, which was unanimously approved by Alto Dairy's board of directors in January, was voted on and approved by 98% of the cooperative's members who attended a special meeting of the members held in Fond du Lac on Feb. 27.
"This is a historic day for the Cooperative," said Rich Scheuerman, Alto Dairy's president and chief executive officer. A large number of Alto Dairy members from across Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan attended the meeting to cast their ballots on the proposed transaction.
"Alto Dairy's members overwhelming supported the sale of assets to Saputo Cheese USA Inc.," Scheuerman added. "Their approval of the sale will strengthen the business by improving the long-term viability of our manufacturing facilities, providing job stability and a long term purchaser of milk for dairy producers in Wisconsin."
Alto Dairy is owned by 3,200 members, 500 of whom are active voting members and ship their milk to the cooperative. Now that the sale has been approved, members will no longer be shareholders and will be paid out for their equity.
According to Saputo, Alto Dairy had sales of $378 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30. However, co-op members have received annual dividends from the cooperative just once in the past five years. Now that the sale has been approved, Alto says it will pay members dividends for 2004 and 2007 within the next 18 months.
"Alto Dairy has always been recognized as an industry leader and today is no different," said Howard Zellmer, chairman of the Alto Dairy board of directors. "Although it is hard to see an end to the cooperative form of business at Alto, our Board is pleased that we were able to provide an economic return to our members for their investment and loyalty to the Cooperative."
Alto Dairy is a 114 year-old cooperative owned by the dairy farm families who supply it with milk. American- and Italian-style cheeses are made daily at the Cooperative's plants in Alto and Black Creek. The co-op has 467 employees. Cheese and whey produced at Alto Dairy are marketed nationwide under a variety of brand names and private labels.
Saputo is one of the top 20 dairy processors in the world, and is the largest dairy processor in Canada. The company ranks among the top five cheese produced in the United States, is the third-largest dairy processor in Argentina and employs 8,900 workers worldwide.