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Swiss group buys Roth Käse
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MONROE - The Swiss roots of Roth Käse, a leading manufacturer and marketer of handcrafted, award-winning cheeses in Monroe, grew a little deeper this week.

Emmi, the largest Swiss milk processor and one of the most innovative premium dairies in Europe, announced Thursday it has acquired 100 percent of the shares in Roth Käse USA Ltd., located in Monroe.

One of Green County's leading employers, Roth Käse employs about 125 people and has sales of about $90 million.

"Emmi has no plans to change personnel or management for the first year," Kirsten Jaeckle, director of marketing for Roth Käse, said.

The acquisition of Roth Käse taps new sales channels for Emmi's Swiss cheese line in the food service sector.

"We feel that Emmi is an ideal partner and will complement our product range very nicely. We are confident that our company will flourish with Emmi in the future," Fermo Jaeckle, one of Roth Käse founders and its largest shareholder, said.

Emmi has been a strategic partner with a minority stake in Roth Käse USA Ltd., since 2006.

Fruitful cooperation, Roth Käse's steady growth over the past few years, promising long-term growth prospects on the U.S. market and the desire of the majority shareholders to shape a common future with Emmi were catalysts of the acquisition, according to a news release issued Thursday by both companies.

Emmi has been successfully marketing Swiss cheese in the U.S. for years. Both companies are joining forces to continue growth in the retail and food service sectors with Swiss premium cheese and American specialties.

Executive Director of the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association John Umhoefer called the move a positive one for local Wisconsin markets.

"I suspect it means they are going to support the business and stick with it (Roth Käse)," he said.

Because of the value of Roth Käse, Umhoefer believes Emmi will keep the Roth Käse brands.

"I look at it as a positive - that they have decided to invest in the business and keep it going," he said.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price, but Kepler Capital Markets analyst Jon Cox valued Roth at about $45 million.

The move boosted Emmi's stocks on the Swiss share index Thursday by 6.8 percent to 111 Swiss francs by 1243 GMT.

The U.S. cheese market is worth about $16.4 billion. Specialty cheeses account for around $1 billion, with above-average growth of 15 percent last year.

Luke Bulholzer, president of the Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute and vice-president of sales at Klondike Cheese in Monroe, sees life of Cheesemakers in Green County going on as usual.

"For Klondike Cheese, with our relationship with Roth Käse, it'll be business as usual," Bulholzer said. Klondike supplies Feta and Havarti cheeses to Roth Käse.

"As for WSCI, since the plant is located in Wisconsin and they're still members, it's business as usual there, too," he added.

News of the acquisition stunned Monticello resident Bruce Workman, owner of Edelweiss Creamery Cheese. He declined to comment.

Workman, a master cheesemaker of seven types of cheeses, makes the famous 180-pound wheels of Swiss Emmenthaler. He also was a leading cheesemaker at Roth Käse until 2003, when he started his own business.

For many years, Emmi has been a successful importer of Swiss cheese in the U.S., where it also markets premium yogurts manufactured by a partner company.

Emmi plans to reinforce its market position as the leading producer of Swiss cheese around the world, with a special focus on Italy, Germany and the United States.

Roth is among the 10 leading U.S. companies which produces and markets domestic cheese specialties, with its main focus on the food service sector.

For about a year, Emmi has been producing Emmi Caffè Latte in the state of New York. It is being test-marketed in multiple regions.

Emmi's sales on the U.S. target market total approximately $90 million. Upon acquisition of Roth Käse, the U.S. will become Emmi's largest foreign market.

Green County Development Corporation Executive Director Anna Schramke does not expect Roth Käse to change its plans.

"Emmi was previously a part-owner, and Roth Käse has had some major expansion plans, and I don't see that changing," she said. "Roth Käse has always been a big supporter of community efforts, and I don't see that changing.

"But we've got another foreign ownership and that's a positive. It may actually help, proving Green County is an international-focused community. It definitely will give us something else to talk about."

Both companies are focused on joint growth, but will continue to operate as separate entities in the future.

Steve McKeon and Fermo Jaeckle will continue to manage Roth Käse's operational business in 2009. Both also will remain on the company's advisory board for the long-term.

Roth Käse USA Ltd. was founded in 1991 by Fermo Jaeckle and Felix and Ulrich Roth. The company is among the 100 largest milk processing plants in the U.S. and focuses on American cheese specialties for the US food service industry. Over the past few years, Roth Käse Ltd. has won more than 100 awards in regional, national and international competitions.

Emmi is the largest Swiss milk processor and one of the most innovative premium dairies in Europe. In Switzerland, Emmi focuses on the development, production and marketing of a full range of dairy and fresh products as well as the production, aging and trade of primarily Swiss cheeses. Outside Switzerland, Emmi concentrates on brand concepts and specialties in European and North American markets.