NAUGATUCK — Months after Danone closed the YoCrunch plant in the borough, an entrepreneur is breathing new life into the facility on Spring Street.
Work is underway to turn the roughly 30,000-square-foot building at 162 Spring St. into the headquarters for Culture Fresh Foods, a producer of plant-based, non-dairy spoonable and spreadable foods, like yogurt, sour cream, pudding, dips and soft cheeses.
The company bought the property in late August for $3.35 million, according to borough records.
Tom Moffitt, founder and CEO of Culture Fresh Foods, said the company started work to renovate and expand the facility Sept. 3. He said the project will add about 10,000 square feet to the building for additional cold storage and office space. The company will repurpose about 80 percent of the existing equipment used by YoCrunch, a producer of yogurts with flavored toppings, and add new equipment, he said.
Moffitt secured $11 million in seed capital from CEI Ventures, FreshTracks Capital and several angel investors to get the company up and running, a news release stated.
“Culture Fresh Foods is the right idea at the right time,” said Chandler Jones, principal of CEI Ventures, in the news release. “Tom’s proven experience, coupled with a robust consumer market, gives us great confidence for the company’s success.”
Moffitt is the co-founder and former CEO of Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro, Vt. In January, he said, he started to look into building a new facility and company in Vermont under the name Culture Made Vermont, which has since been folded into Culture Fresh Foods. He then looked at an existing plant in New York, before the former YoCrunch plant came to his attention.
When he visited the former YoCrunch plant, Moffitt said it attracted him because it looked expandable and renovating an existing plant would speed up the timeline to production and lower costs.
Starting the company in Naugatuck is also a homecoming of sorts for Moffitt, who lives in Massachusetts. Moffitt grew up in Bridgewater and his parents still live there.
Moffitt said he also met with former YoCrunch employees when the plant closed and they really impressed him. He hired five employees, including former YoCrunch employees, to get his company up and running, and expects to hire two more employees this month.
Moffitt anticipates hiring 15 more employees in November. Production is expected to start by the end of the year, he said.
After five years, Moffitt projected the company will have 110 employees and produce 35 million pounds of products.
When Danone, which is based in France, closed the YoCrunch facility in Naugatuck earlier this year, it eliminated 147 jobs.
“When somebody moves out it’s very difficult to deal with that,” Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. CEO Ronald Pugliese said.
Pugliese said the NEDC started working with Moffitt in early June, and he’s pleased to have a company in the Spring Street plant in a reasonably short amount of time.
“He’s going to be a great addition to Naugatuck,” Pugliese said.
Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said he met the company’s management when they were considering the Spring Street site and they impressed him.
“They seem to be a strong, innovated company, and we’re thrilled to have them in Naugatuck,” Hess said. “We’re going to work with them to ease their entry into the borough.”