The Sorrento brand, which has been part of Buffalo’s cheese-making for 66 years, is being eliminated by the French food giant that has owned the local business since the 1990s.
In its place, all of Sorrento’s products -- from ricotta and mozzarella to snack cheese products -- will be rebranded under the Galbani brand, a worldwide brand also owned by Groupe Lactalis that has products sold across Europe, Japan, Canada and other countries.
Sorrento officials stressed that the elimination of the Sorrento brand name will not lead to other changes at the company’s Buffalo factory, which has more than 570 employees.
“Our plan is everything stays the same or gets bigger,” said Angela Fisher, Sorrento Galbani’s marketing director.
The Buffalo factory is the largest ricotta cheese plant in North America, producing 75 million pounds of ricotta each year. The plant also produces about 68 million pounds of mozzarella cheese annually. The plant’s cheese-making processes consume about 2 million pounds of milk a day, enough to fill about 45 milk trucks, company officials said.
While the Sorrento products will be rebranded and sold under the Galbani name, the cheeses will continue to be produced using the same recipes, company officials said. Groupe Lactalis said its Lactalis Retail Dairy division will continue to be based at the Buffalo plant.
Residents in the Buffalo Niagara region got their first hint of the brand name change this summer, when the Italian Heritage Festival in North Buffalo, which has long been sponsored by Sorrento, took on the Galbani name instead. Packaging containing both the Sorrento and Galbani logos also began appearing in stores over the last couple of months as the company began using the new packaging, Fisher said.
That is part of a plan to phase in the Galbani brand over a period of about a year.
While Sorrento is a well-known brand in Buffalo and is sold in markets all along the East Coast, Groupe Lactalis’ Italian cheese products along the West Coast are sold under the Precious brand name, even though Precious brand ricotta cheese is made at the Sorrento plant in Buffalo. The Precious brand also is being phased out in favor of Galbani.
Fisher said the benefits of having a single, nationwide brand outweigh the risks of dropping a well-known and established regional brand.
“It’s more efficient and it’s consistent for the consumer, who is more mobile these days,” Fisher said, noting that a Walmart shopper might find Sorrento brand cheese in an East Coast store but Precious brand cheese in a West Coast store. “National retailers like national brands.”
The name dates back to 1947, when the company opened as a three-man operation founded by Louis Russo, an immigrant from Sorrento, Italy. It grew into a cheese distribution business with four plants, including facilities in California and Idaho, by the time Russo retired in 1988.
At that time the company was sold to a subsidiary of French bottled water company Perrier. Four years later, Groupe Lactalis, the second-largest dairy company in the world, acquired the business. It acquired the Galbani brand, the No. 1 cheese brand in Italy and a popular brand in other European markets, in 2006.