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O-AT-KA MILK CO-OP EXPECTS RECORD YEAR

The O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative, processors and vendors of a variety of specialty dairy products from "surplus" milk produced by Western New York dairy farms, expects that 1995 will continue the record successes of 1994.

The co-op, owned jointly by members of the Upstate, Niagara and Dairylea dairy farmers cooperatives, processed a record 513 million pounds of milk in 1994 and recorded $95.61 million in sales of evaporated milk, butter, cream, powdered milk, ice cream mix, dairy cat food and other specialty products.

The sales, up $6.23 million from the 1993 mark, resulted in a profit of $1.1 million, compared to just $33,381 in 1993, according to finance director Gerry Gadra.

Moreover, with several of its products sold nationally and new ones in view, O-AT-KA executives -- led by President James Schotz of Wilson, general manager Bob Hall and operations manager C.A. "Mac" McCampbell -- have begun discussing expanding the plant on Route 63 just south of Batavia.

The 1994 results and 1995 expectations were reviewed at O-AT-KA's 36th annual meeting earlier this month.

O-AT-KA officials credited part of the 1994 success to a reduced price for skim milk, better sales management of its butter supplies, employee cooperation, improved plant efficiency and the lower cost of plant steam bought from the Sithe Energy Co.'s adjacent co-generation plant.

"O-AT-KA, now with 178 employees, is the fastest growing dairy enterprise in Western New York," McCampbell said.

The 1994 year had some disappointments. Although evaporated milk sales were up, competitive prices cut into profit. Ice coffee sales fell and one distributor terminated its contract.

But the co-op benefited from new contracts to supply national distributors like Hershey chocolate, Hagen Dazs ice cream, Colombo yogurt and Hiram Walker Distillers, plus the start-up of a high-speed butter printer and a new ultrafiltration plant that can produce concentrated ice cream protein mix. Executives said those advances show that O-AT-KA is well positioned for current marketing conditions, but acknowledged it still requires long-range planning to remain strong in the 21st century.

"We have seen unprecedented growth in the canned foods area," McCampbell said. "In 1994, O-AT-KA processed 150 million pounds of milk into canned food products. But because of capacity limitations, we must expand our facility if O-AT-KA is to see continued growth. There is so much interest in sterile, shelf-stable, low-acid canned foods and so few facilities capable of producing them. This area has all of us very excited."

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