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Company Buys N. Liberty Bakery

Cole's Plans to Make Frozen Cheese Sticks to Sell to Supermarkets

George C. Ford

The Gazette

June 23, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]



    NORTH LIBERTY — A defunct bakery in North Liberty may start producing frozen mozzarella-filled cheese sticks for supermarket customers across the country.

    Cole’s Quality Foods of Grand Rapids, Mich., expects to complete the purchase of the former Rudi’s Bakery property today from Cybus Capital Management of Des Moines.

    Cole’s, founded in 1943, said strong demand for its mozzarella-filled cheese sticks — a relatively new product — prompted it to seek a dedicated facility to produce the hot item. Customers include major grocery chains like Albertsons, Kroger, Hy-Vee, Nash Finch and Wal-Mart as well as ‘‘club’’ chains like Sam’s Club and Costco.

    Cole’s plans to invest $8.5 million in the acquisition and equipping of the 35,465-square-foot, USDA-grade commercial bakery. The plant will open early next year and employ 60 when running at full capacity.

    Over the last eight months, Cole’s has added 50 jobs at its Muskegon, Mich., baking plant and increased production from five to seven days to meet sharp consumer demand for its products. The company is expecting sales to jump by 25 percent this year.

    ‘‘The consumer response to our new cheese sticks has been nothing short of overwhelming, and we are already working on ways to expand this extremely popular product,’’ said John Sommavilla, president of Cole’s Quality Foods. ‘‘Consistent with our growth strategy, we are adding substantial capacity and broadening our distribution reach.’’

    Mark Seckman, president of Priority One in Cedar Rapids, said attracting Cole’s to North Liberty was a joint effort of Priority One and the Iowa City Area Development Group. He said the Corridor’s growing food processing industry ‘‘cluster’’ was a major factor in attracting Cole’s to the area.

    ‘‘These companies — not direct competitors — have employees with similar skill sets,’’ Seckman said. ‘‘The availability of the bakery was one factor, but the fact that we have developed this industry cluster in the region is what really pulled them in.’’

    No tax abatement will be provided by the state or North Liberty.

    Seckman said Cole’s employees will be trained at Kirkwood Community College under the Iowa Industrial New Jobs Training Program. The city of North Liberty will provide some funding for site upgrades.

    Rudi’s Organic Bakery of Boulder, Colo., closed its North Liberty bakery in early 2002 after less than a year of operation. Another company, Dare Devil Shells of Phoenix, Ariz., announced plans to take over the Rudi’s facility but never began production.

    Contact the writer: (319) 398-8366 or george.ford@gazettecommunications.com