Eight months before their company's 20th birthday, Cowgirl Creamery owners Sue Conley and Peggy Smith have sold their nationally distributed cheese business to a larger Swiss dairy company, Emmi, which six months ago also bought up Sebastopol goat dairy farm Redwood Hills Farm and Creamery.
The deal comes along with Tomales Bay Foods, Cowgirl's distribution wing, and its terms haven't been disclosed. But, to give you a sense of Emmi's size, we're told that the company posted net sales of more than $3 billion last year as iSwitzerland's largest milk processor. The company is operated by a cooperative of dairy farmers and was founded in 1907.
The much humbler Cowgirl, nonetheless, has gotten pretty legit since 1997. Then, it was just one of six local cheesemaking operations, and now there are more than 24 in the area. Cowgirl employs 95 people, produces about a dozen cheese varieties, and sports a retail outpost in the Ferry building, which was closed for a remodel at the beginning of the month, as well as a sister café also on the premises.
"We have worked with and admired Emmi for some time," Peggy and Sue write on Facebook, their retail shop having carried some of Emmi's products in the past. With the addition of new capital and expertise, they'll also expand to a new Petaluma production facility and bring back their popular cottage cheese.
Furthermore, the previous owners' professional involvement with Cowgirl won't change. "Sue and I will continue to have the same involvement with the companies, co-managing directors; serving as President and Vice President," Peggy writes.
In a related article, the Chronicle notes that acquisitions and mergers in the Bay Area food world have been on the rise. Last year, for example, Perdue bought up locals Niman Ranch, a sustainable meat company, and before that, dutch beer goliath Heineken purchased a 50 percent stake in Petaluma's Lagunitas Brewing Company. And yesterday there was news that respected Healdsburg boutique winery Copain has been sold to the conglomerate Jackson Family Wines.
“The valuations of companies in this space have really picked up,” Jeff Pera, a consultant at tax advisory firm Grant Thornton in San Francisco who works with food companies, told the paper. Pera added that family-run companies that lacked clear successors to operate them are among those most frequently acquired.