GLENVILLE — BelGioioso Cheese is setting up a cold-storage warehouse to improve distribution capability at its new Glenville plant, where production has tripled since opening in May 2020.
The $6 million project is expected to take about a year, and will allow the company to further expand production.
After it decided to build its first plant outside Wisconsin, the cheesemaker received assistance from the town and county and financial incentives from the state when it chose Glenville. It bought 40 acres and three structures in the Glenville Business and Technology Park on Route 5.
The plant employs nearly 60 people and can process up to 1 million pounds of milk per day into mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Adjoining land is available to expand the plant if it maxes out production.
The problem is that there’s only 12,000 square feet of cold storage in the 100,000-square-foot plant.
“We have capacity currently at the plant, we have room to expand,” said Tim Cronin, BelGioioso’s Northeast general manager. “So we have no constraints in continuing to grow there, but our immediate constraints were on cold storage/distribution — 12,000 square feet became too tight.”
The new cold-storage warehouse will occupy one of the World War II-era warehouses remaining from the business park’s original incarnation as a U.S. Navy supply depot.
Cronin said while the exterior is rough in places, the building is very solid. Considering all the tradeoffs — the time and expense of demolition and new construction vs. the cost of retrofitting the existing structure — the company decided to refurbish what already exists.
“These buildings were built very robustly,” he said. Plus, the company already owns them.
Half the 120,000-square-foot Building 403 will be converted now, the other half will await future re-use, as will two similar buildings. The company expects to be done with the project and start using it in late 2022. It expects to expand its workforce by 10 people when the work is done.
The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, which originally sold the 40 acres to BelGioioso, has exempted the company from sales tax on materials needed for the conversion project, which is being undertaken by LeChase Construction and has an anticipated price tag of $6 million.
Cronin said the company was able to grow production substantially at the Glenville plant over the 19 months even as it had to navigate the upheaval created by COVID, which saw some farmers dumping milk and plowing under crops in 2020 because their markets had changed so suddenly and dramatically.
Per-capita consumption of Italian cheese in the United States has continued to grow, Cronin explained, but the details were complex — commercial sales plummeted and retail sales jumped as Americans stopped eating out and started cooking at home, then shifted back as restaurant and institutional dining began to rebound.
With minimal effort, the Glenville plant can switch its packaging from one market to the other — packages as small as 8 ounces for individual consumers, tubs as large as 30 pounds for institutional customers — so it was able to keep both markets satisfied.
“We’ve maintained 100% fulfillment through 2021, which is something we’re very proud of,” Cronin said.
BelGioioso set up operations in this area in 2011, when it bought Cappiello Dairy in Schenectady. It said at the time its interest was in acquiring an authentic cheesemaker founded 90 years earlier by an Italian immigrant, but the deal had the added benefit of bringing a company based in America’s agricultural heartland closer to the lucrative Northeast market.
BelGioiosi continued to operate the Cappiello plant on Van Guysling Avenue for several years as it planned and built the plant in Glenville at a cost of $30 million.
BelGioioso still owns the Schenectady plant but uses it only for storage. The brand lives on, though: The Glenville facility today is named The Cappiello Plant, and packages its products under four names: Cappiello, BelGioioso, Market 32 by BelGioioso and Casaro.
BelGioioso makes 30 varieties of Italian cheese but each of its ten plants specializes in just a few varieties. Glenville’s specialty is mozzarella, fresh mozzarella and ricotta, in multiple variations.
As BelGioioso nears the ten-year mark in Schenectady County, Cronin said it has enjoyed two key advantages here: Its employees and the farmers who sell it milk.
“Great people make great cheese, great milk makes great cheese,” he said.