Bel Brands USA, a subsidiary of Paris-based cheese manufacturer Bel Group, opened its third cheese manufacturing plant in the US, in Brookings, South Dakota, in October.

The Brookings plant, built with an estimated investment of $144m, is Bel Group’s 28th cheese production facility worldwide and represents the largest industrial capital investment made by the company in its entire history.

The plant, located in the Foster Industrial Park, north of the Swiftel Center, produces the Mini BabyBel line of semi-soft snack cheese, a cheese brand with growing demand in the US market.

Mini Babybel producing cheese plant in Brookings, South Dakota

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Bel Brands to build cheese plant in South Dakota

Bel Brands USA has unveiled plans to invest $100m to build a cheese production plant in Brookings, South Dakota, US.

The 170,000ft² Mini Babybel cheese production facility is situated on a site of more than 48 acres along the 32nd Avenue, near the I-29 corridor in Brookings.

Bel Brands commenced its search for an ideal plant location in early 2011. Although Iowa, Idaho and Michigan were initially considered as possible locations for the cheese plant, South Dakota was finally selected because of its robust dairy industry.

Construction of Bel Brands’ third cheese plant in the US

Construction of the Brookings cheese plant was carried out in two phases.

The first phase of construction started in July 2012 with commercial production beginning in July this year.

The second phase of construction, to expand the plant’s production capacity, will commence between 2016 to 2017, depending on the market demand. The expansion, if carried out, will create an additional 200 jobs at the site.

Details of the semi-soft cheese producing plant

The cheese plant stretches in a long, straight line with a corridor that divides the facility into two equal halves.

One side of the plant houses the production facilities, while the other side features the brine storage facility, maintenance facilities and locker rooms.

Production processes from milk receiving to cheese conversion

The plant has two production processes – upstream and downstream. Upstream processes include every activity starting from milk receiving to cheese conversion, whereas downstream processes include waxing, packaging and shipping.

"The cheese plant uses 500,000 pounds of milk to produce 70,000 pounds of cheese, equivalent to 1.5 million Mini BabyBels, per day."

The cheese plant uses 500,000 pounds of milk to produce 70,000 pounds of cheese, equivalent to 1.5 million single-serving portions of the Mini BabyBel snack cheese, per day.

Milk for the plant is bought through two local dairy co-operatives – Dairy Farmers of America and Land O’Lakes.

City of Brookings’ $11.7m funding and other contractors involved

The City of Brookings, which provided the 48 acre industrial site for the project, also authorised $7m worth of bonds to finance improvements at the site and additionally funded $11.7m for the plant construction.

More than 28 South Dakota contractors were involved in the construction of the cheese plant. The key contractors included Muth Electric, Tessierr’s, Austreim Landscaping, and Bowes Construction.

100% natural creamy Mini Babybel cheese

"Bel Brands USA sold 22 million pounds (10,000t) of Mini Babybel in the US in 2013, a 24% increase from the previous year."

Mini Babybel is one of three popular cheese brands produced by Bel Group. The other two brands are ‘Laughing Cow’ and ‘Boursin’.

Mini Babybel is a 100% natural creamy cheese individually encased in signature red wax with an outer cellophane wrapper.

The product was introduced to the US market in 1979 and has since then received huge recognition as a fun healthy snack well suited for American eating habits.

Mini Babybel cheese accounts for one-third of Bel Brands USA’s total sales volume. The company sold 22 million pounds (10,000t) of Mini Babybel in the US in 2013, a 24% increase from the previous year.

With the opening of the Brookings plant, Bel Brands expects to meet the growing demand for Mini Babybel in the US without relying heavily on imported produce.

Branded cheeses and gourmet cheese spreads manufacturer

Bel Brands USA manufactures and markets branded cheeses and gourmet cheese spreads.

The company was listed as one of Chicago’s "101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For" during 2009 to 2011.

Besides the new Brookings plant, Bel Brands owns two other cheese manufacturing plants in USA. The Leitchfield facility in Kentucky produces Mini Babybel cheese and the Little Chute facility in Wisconsin produces local cheese brands such as Merkts, Kaukauna, Price’s Pimiento, and Wispride.