Canadian Lino Saputo says evaluation needed before final decision on fate of cream cheese jobs

New player: Lino Saputo (centre) with his company's chief operating officer Kai Bockmann and communications chief Sandy Vassiadis arriving at Coulston Park, Tangambalanga on Tuesday morning. Picture: MARK JESSER
New player: Lino Saputo (centre) with his company's chief operating officer Kai Bockmann and communications chief Sandy Vassiadis arriving at Coulston Park, Tangambalanga on Tuesday morning. Picture: MARK JESSER

CREAM cheese workers at Kiewa will not know until next year whether they will be kept in a job by their factory’s prospective new owner.

Canadian tycoon Lino Saputo, whose family firm has entered a deal to buy the plant from Murray Goulburn, visited the Border for the first time on Tuesday.

He addressed a meeting of milk suppliers at the Kiewa-Sandy Creek football club rooms before touring the nearby factory.

Until last Friday, Murray Goulburn had earmarked the Kiewa plant for a full closure in mid-2018, following the end of Kiewa Country brand milk processing last July.

Mr Saputo said his company had been acting on the basis its $1.31 billion takeover would involve Kiewa closing with seven other MG plants remaining open.

“Our alignment right now is to operate the seven plants we would inherit through this acquisition,” Mr Saputo told The Border Mail.

“The Kiewa plant was not part of our plans, because as we were going through the due diligence process it wasn’t part of our plans.”

Asked if Saputo supported MG’s decision to keep it open, the Montreal native said: “I’m not sure yet.”

Mr Saputo said a similar evaluation process, which had been done to the other MG plants, would now be applied to Kiewa with a final decision expected before March 30 next year.

Up in the air: The future of the Murray Goulburn plant at Kiewa continues to be uncertain with prospective new owner Lino Saputo saying an assessment is needed before a final decision on its fate is made.

Up in the air: The future of the Murray Goulburn plant at Kiewa continues to be uncertain with prospective new owner Lino Saputo saying an assessment is needed before a final decision on its fate is made.

“Our decision will be made before we takeover, so I would say within the first quarter of 2018, once we takeover the assets that’s when we should have a pretty good idea of what our alignment’s going to be moving forward,” he said.

The Saputo board chairman said an assessment of equipment and technology used to process the cream cheese would be part of the analysis.

National Union of Workers organiser Neil Smith said if more investment was needed in equipment to keep the factory open the Victorian or federal governments could assist.

“This community needs those jobs, there’s 70 there and we think potentially an opportunity to grow and now if there needs to be investment to shore up the structure we need to work together and get the government to help,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Saputo was non-committal when asked if his firm would mothball the factory, rather than sell it, if processing ended.

“Not sure yet, again it is still very early in the process,” he said.

“The only thing I can say is the supplying community is very important for us, we will have a home for the milk irrespective of whether that plant stays open or not.”

Saputo’s takeover is still subject to approval by competition and foreign investment regulators.