Glanbia opens cheese center, headquarters

Twin Falls officials hope the complex will be an economic boon for their downtown.

Times-News (Twin Falls)August 20, 2013 

Unbuttoning his dress shirt, Glanbia Foods President and CEO Jeff Williams puffed out his chest and proudly bared the blue and white T-shirt beneath.

"Life is gouda," it read.

"We wear our passion on our shirtsleeves. But I can tell you that we also wear it on our heart," Williams said, rousing applause from the crowd gathered Aug. 7.

The occasion was Glanbia's grand opening of its corporate offices and Cheese Innovation Center in Twin Falls. Williams says he hopes the buzz will energize employees to further improve the company and its products.

The two buildings will house about 100 employees. Glanbia Foods Inc., based in Twin Falls, is a unit of Glanbia plc, an Irish food and ingredient company. The company says it's the world's largest producer of barrel cheese, which is used in processed cheese.

Glanbia Foods has 950 employees, including 700 in Idaho, and sells and ships 860 million pounds of cheese annually to customers in 30 countries. It has four Idaho manufacturing plants - in Twin Falls, , Richfield and Blackfoot - and one in Clovis, N.M. The company says it buys $800 million in milk each year from Idaho dairies.

Building the center "was a huge collaborative effort, and it does show what can happen when people come together - entrepreneurs, business people, government, city folks, townspeople and a group of great employees and milk suppliers," Williams told the audience. "We have the best milk in the world right here in Idaho, and we are going to feed the world."

Between samples of cheese, locals toured the 14,000-square-foot innovation center and the three-story, 35,000-square-foot headquarters built to house about 100 employees.

"This is where the money is going to be made," Williams said, gesturing toward the innovation center. "And this (corporate headquarters) is where we are going to count the money."

A PLACE TO TEST IDEAS

The $15 million complex represents the largest capital investment in downtown to date, according to the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency.

The innovation center - lined with large windows and filled with shiny new equipment - features a kitchen, culinary lab, analytical lab, offices, conference room and posters illustrating pepper matchmaking - the art of adding hot peppers to cheese.

In an interview, Williams says he's coining the phrase "innovation around the edges" to illustrate that the company won't stray far from what has made it successful - high-volume, low-cost, top-quality commodity cheese.

Glanbia expects about 60 percent of the innovation center's work to come from customers' ideas. About 30 percent will be ideas generated from marketplace trends, and 10 percent will be "blue sky or serendipitous" activity, he said. The latter is where Glanbia will let its scientists "play around."

Cheese innovation is a broad subject, but "accelerated aging" is an example of what the company hopes to accomplish, Williams says. Scientists can use certain enzymes to mature cheese more quickly than the natural aging process.

INCUBATION AND ANALYSIS

In March, Glanbia bought a cheese plant in Blackfoot specifically to be an "incubator plant," he says.

"So the plan is to take the things we make in the cheese innovation center, and then we'll go to commercialize those. Once a customer gives us a big order, we'll want to make the cheese on a commercial basis, and we'll take it to our Blackfoot plant."

In the analytical lab, food scientists support the art of cheese-making with scientific testing. Instead of leaving the cheese to subjective human tastes, food scientists can gather specific data and produce a more consistent product, says staffer Candace Clark. They can identify, say, what makes cheddar's aged and unique note.

"We can monitor cheese characteristics like moisture, salt levels, fat levels and protein levels," Clark says. "We can also measure things like flavor."

In the culinary lab, employees can look at how the cheese's flavors carry over to a food product. There they can shred, slice, perform melt tests and use deep fryers, induction burners or a gas range - "everything we need to make any kind of conventional cheese product," says staffer Colin Cassard.

The innovation center is "where the fun starts," says Dave Perry, Glanbia director of cheese technology.

"Everybody needs to eat some cheese," Perry told the audience. "If you don't eat some cheese, you've missed the point. Then, from there, you need to every day keep eating some cheese. The more you eat, the more we'll make."

DOWNTOWN REINVESTMENT

The complex is the largest private investment made in the Old Towne portion of the city's downtown to date, says Cindy Bond, chairwoman of the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency, which spent $1.25 million preparing the Glanbia site. The project is a "catalyst for change" and has drawn the interest of other businesses.

"Downtown is the most vibrant it has been in decades, and we expect the vibrancy to continue," Bond says.

Williams says Glanbia workers will help downtown. "People are just going to go out the door, hit Main Avenue and hit some of the sandwich places," he says. "I'm hoping that someone opens up a few more restaurants down there."

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