Turmoil in cheese land five years after takeover of Hamilton factory

In 2014, iconic Hamilton cheese company Salerno Dairy was swallowed by Gay Lea Foods with promises of stable employment, expanded business, a new R&D facility and a continuation of the brand.

It meant a new chapter in the life of a company that was started by Italian cheese maker Carmine Marzaroin 1961 in a garage off Cannon Street.

Five years after the acquisition, Gay Lea CEO Mike Barrett says the company has done everything it said it would.

"We've invested millions of dollars into the facility. And Salerno has become an important flagship for us and a very important part of our growth."

The same number of people work at the plant today — 200 — as before the acquisition.

Sales have increased by more than 40 per cent, Barrett said. The research and development facility, called the Innovation Centre, is operating with a dozen employees as a division of the company's Morley Street plant. Salerno products have been spread further into the marketplace using Gay Lea distribution channels.

But all is not well in cheese land or dairy land, for that matter, Barrett says. Trade agreements signed last year by the federal government mean more competition in the Canadian market.

And, he says, "Dairy is under suspicion within the broader perspective in the sense of the new (Canada's Food Guide). We are committed to make sure that dairy is part of the consumer diet and that we are inventing products that continue to be able to satisfy the nutrient needs of Canadians."

The Dairy Farmers of Canada has come out fighting, saying there is "no scientific justification to minimize the role of milk products" in the Canadian diet and the Food Guide could lead to "inadequate intakes of important nutrients."