After starting in west Marin County two decades ago, Straus Family Creamery is planning an expansion move to Santa Rosa.
Straus signed a letter of intent to lease 87,000 square feet of existing space in a south Santa Rosa industrial complex. Lease discussions are continuing. The new location would consolidate the Marshall creamery operations and Petaluma storage, distribution and administrative functions under one roof, according to founder and CEO Albert Straus.
Straus wants “to be able to make a facility that is as environmentally sensitive and zero-impact as possible as well as being able to have a facility that is a showpiece for consumers to be able to understand where the products come from and how it’s made and to have an opportunity to look at the process and the byproducts at the end.”
Green ideas for the new creamery include treating process wastewater to a nearly drinkable level, something that could reduce sewer costs, and the rest could feed a biodigester that could produce energy. The dairy a few miles from the Marshall creamery gained acclaim for installing a system that makes energy from milk waste and manure.
The Santa Rosa site also could have solar energy and capture of heat from production to reduce energy used to heat water.
Environmental concern has been part of the creamery’s history. Albert Straus started the creamery in 1994 near to the dairy farm his parents, Bill and Ellen Straus, bought on the eastern shore of Tomales Bay in 1941. Albert Straus returned to the dairy in the 1970s after earning a dairy science degree and pushed to get organic certification for the farm. The creamery, operating in a leased facility, then became the first certified-organic creamery in the U.S. when it opened.
“We are going to gain efficiencies being under one roof,” said Bob McGee, president. “We have warehouse and distribution in Petaluma and processing in Marshall. A larger facility to innovate on product development and increase capacity to allow us to grow.”
That would build on a 25 percent-plus boost in efficiency the creamery achieved in the past two years through a manufacturing software upgrades and training employees to respond to more issues themselves. And most of the 140 current employees live in the Santa Rosa area, so moving closer to them would reduce air pollution and improve their work-life balance, McGee said.
Straus said the Santa Rosa facility as currently envisioned should keep the company on track for growth over the next 15 to 20 years based on projected milk output from suppliers. Currently, Straus buys milk from nine area dairies, including one Albert Straus owns.
The creamery has enjoyed double-digit sales growth in 20 of the past 21 years. The company makes 100 product variations — SKUs — distributed in Western states, mostly to natural and organic foods stores. The wholesale side of the company has grown dramatically too, with sales of barista milk and soft-serve ice cream to food service accounts.
It became clear a decade ago that the creamery would need a new home, and the company has been scouting sites in Petaluma, Novato and Rohnert Park, Albert Straus said. Several years ago, Straus leased 25,000 square feet of warehouse, cold and freezer storage, and office space in Petaluma then moved administrative personnel there.
The new location is being planned for 200 to 250 employees.
The owner of the Todd Road site, Petaluma-based Cornerstone Properties II S LLC, in early June applied for County of Sonoma design review of a proposal to spruce up an existing light-industrial building for the creamery on nearly 9 acres. Cornerstone is crafting a new master plan for the complex as part of a concept gelling over the past few years to create a hub for artisan food processors and other manufacturers at that site as well as the former Adobe Lumber site in Petaluma and a property at the intersection of River and Fulton roads north of Santa Rosa. Part of this goal was the gift of space to the 180 Studios maker space that opened at the Todd Road property in April.
Placer Process is engineering the production systems for Straus’ Santa Rosa project, and the creamery is compiling contractor and subcontractor quotes.
CLARIFICATIONS AND CORRECTIONS: A letter of intent to lease isn’t a finalized lease contract. Straus was the first certified-organic creamery in the U.S., and the Straus farm was the first certified dairy west of the Mississippi. The Marshall creamery is a few miles from the Straus family dairy.