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Suntado Opens First Vertically Integrated Dairy Processing Plant in Idaho

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Idaho’s first vertically integrated dairy processing plant has started operations just in time for June Dairy Month but do not expect to see their name brand milk. Suntado, a new 190,000-square-foot production plant sits on 23 acres in Burley, and has no plans for a brand of its own. “Suntado’s brand is ‘Taste the Quality’ and that quality comes from having a vertically integrated milk supply – or milk shed that is less than 45 minutes from our plant,” said Tory Nichols office of the CEO, Business Development, at Suntado. “We wanted every customer that came through the door at Suntado to feel like they were Suntado, whether they wanted to develop a new product or they had a new innovation in mind. They could use us to create that. A lot of things go along with that – they have to trust their proprietary information with us, they’ve got to trust that we’re going to protect their brand and that we’re looking out in their best interests. I believe the Suntado team is adaptable and flexible enough and bright enough that we can manage numerous brands.”The initial focus is on shelf-stable and extended shelf life (ESL) milk, cream and other dairy-based beverages, with the ability to expand beyond dairy into foods like plant-based drinks in the future. While some products are UHT – ultra high temperature processed – leaving the facility at ambient temperature, they will all eventually retail in the chilled case and be consumed cold. The name Suntado comes from its two founding dairy farmers: Dirk Reitsma and Jesus Hurtado, who respectively own 6,000 organic and 30,000 conventional dairy cows within 20 miles of the processing facility, supplying fresh local milk to the plant. Reitsma, a second-generation dairy farmer, owns and manages Sunrise Organic Dairy. Hurtado began his career as a milker, starting his own dairy in the early 1990s – Hurtado Dairy – with just a dozen cows.Much of the product produced by Suntado is packaged in Tetra Pak cartons. Unfinished packaging material ships in a roll, reducing the cost and impact of freight. By using cartons formed at the time of packaging, Suntado saves storage space and can fit more product per pallet. For example, Tetra Pak’s Brik model aseptic packages result in about 24% more liters on a pallet compared to plastic bottle equivalent. They also are the first U.S. contract manufacturer to use the company’s Tetra Top packaging, a one-step open package made primarily of paper designed for grab-and-go beverages, said Mat Rutz, vice president of contract manufacturing for Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada. “There’s a major opportunity for Tetra Top, in pints and courts in particular. So even though the consumer’s buying it chilled and it is a chilled package, it’s extended shelf life, meaning you could get upwards of 70 to 100 days (of shelf life). Contract manufacturers such as Suntado enable brands to take advantage of the new technology, put a new face on that product and offer it at a very competitive price. Co-mans really offer a great market solution for everybody to win,” Rutz said.Suntado aims to be at the “forefront” of dairy innovation, with capacity for value-added products like immunity support, added protein and lactose-free milks. “Plant-based products found a way to process aseptically, package aseptically, ship aseptically and then get sold in the grocery store in the chilled sections. It’s almost as if the dairy industry has just refused to adopt anything that the plant-based partners have become very good at. It’s our job, it’s our owner’s job – they’re dairymen – to change that way of thinking,” Nichols said. “We don’t want to dump milk down the drain. We don’t want to throw away outdated products. That’s going to mean that some of those products need to be packaged aseptically, but they will be sold chilled.” This is phase one of a three-phase project, with the ability to triple capacity in the future, said Russ Lucas, plant manager.The idea for Suntado took shape over three years ago and the group spent a year on design engineering before ever putting a shovel in the ground. Built by Big D Construction, it was designed with room to expand to up to four more processing lines and 12 more filling lines, depending on the needs of Suntado’s clients. An onsite cold storage room will house 1,500 pallets and another ambient room holds up to 1,800 pallets. Suntado expects to hire about 100 employees in total and eventually will ramp up to multiple shifts, Lucas said. Idaho is the third largest dairy producing state in the U.S. with over 300 dairies.

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