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Dairy Farmers of America seeks to acquire Kemps

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By the end of the year, a Minnesota dairy giant will have a new owner.

Kemps LLC, which is based in St. Paul and has milk and ice cream facilities in Rochester, has confirmed that Dairy Farmers of America is in the process of acquiring the 97-year-old dairy processor. The Post-Bulletin broke the story on Wednesday.

DFA is a farmer-owned milk marketing cooperative based in Kansas City, Mo., with nearly 16,000 members and 3,000 employees. HP Hood LLC of Lynnfield, Mass., owns Kemps. The acquisition is expected to become official by the end of the year.

A written announcement from Kemps says, "We will be working through the transfer process over the upcoming weeks."

While it did confirm the acquisition has begun, company officials said that federal regulations restrict any of the groups releasing more details about the deal.

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"The business transition is in regulatory approval stage, so we are not able to provide any interviews or additional information," said Kemps spokeswoman Rachel Kyllo.

Employees at the two Rochester plants — the ice cream facility at 401 N. Broadway and the milk facility at 700 First Ave. S.E. — were briefed on the deal today. The milk processing facility has 135 employees and about 170 work at the ice cream plant.

Bob Williams, Kemps' vice president of operations, came to Rochester to lead meetings for each shift of workers. He said DFA owns a current interest in Kemps' corporate parent, Hood, but will not have a part of that company after the deal, instead owning Kemps in full.

DFA owns a plant in Zumbrota that employs about 100 workers and makes cheese, whey, and cheese and cream powders.

When Williams opened up one of the meetings at Rochester's ice cream plant for questions, there was not much response, said Ken Mergen, who works in the plant's maintenance department. "The only question was about 401k plans. He said the management company might change," said Mergen.

Management of 401k plans has been the main change most workers have seen during corporate changes in the past, said Mergen, who has worked for Kemps for 23 years.

Since Kemps employees are covered by a labor contract negotiated by a Teamsters local, no benefits or work conditions should change when the new owners take over at the end of the year. The Teamsters and Kemps recently signed a 39-month contract that expires in 2014.

Mergen said there wasn't much discussion or speculation about the impending changes following the meeting with Williams. "We went back to our department, had lunch and then we said, 'Now we're owned by DFA…hmm…business as usual,'" he said. "For what we do as employees, as guys who get our hands dirty, not much will change."

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