Home » Chicago-based Dutch Farms bids ‘north of $20M’ to buy bankrupt Oberweis Dairy

Chicago-based Dutch Farms bids ‘north of $20M’ to buy bankrupt Oberweis Dairy

Oberweis Dairy, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month, announced Tuesday that it has found a buyer for its century-old family business.

Brian Boomsma, owner of Chicago-based Dutch Farms, made a stalking horse bid for nearly all of the operating assets of the company, with plans to “operate and grow the business” when it emerges from bankruptcy, Adam Kraber, president of Oberweis, said in a news release.

“We are thrilled to have a business leader like Brian Boomsma interested in investing in Oberweis and enabling the company to continue to move forward and prosper,” Kraber said. “We continue to be grateful to our loyal customers, vendors, and committed employees who have supported us through this process.”

On Wednesday, Boomsma told the Tribune his bid for Oberweis is “north of $20 million” for everything from the dairy plant to the storied brand. At least one other potential bidder has already announced they intend to make a competing offer.

Oberweis Dairy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection April 12 in Chicago after initially failing to find a buyer to rescue it from financial distress. The dairy, which has been losing money in recent years, owes more than $4 million to its 20 largest unsecured creditors and about $14 million in secured bank debt, according to bankruptcy filings.

The company, known for its old-school bottled milk and ice cream, has 40 dairy stores in Chicago, Indiana, Michigan and St. Louis, grocery distribution and home delivery service. It outsources some manufacturing but has a 27-year-old plant at its North Aurora headquarters.

Started in 1915 by Peter Oberweis, an Aurora dairy farmer, the business grew from a single horse-drawn wagon to a multistate enterprise with $95 million in revenues last year. But Oberweis Dairy has struggled in recent years due to increasing consumer demand for dairy alternatives such as plant-based milk, as well as “improvident” capital expenditures, according to the bankruptcy filing.

After four generations in family hands, Jim Oberweis, a Republican politician and grandson of the company founder, decided to sell the dairy last year.

Oberweis Dairy notified the state earlier this month that it may lay off 127 workers at the North Aurora dairy June 11 because of a plant closure, but made clear in a statement to the Tribune that the layoffs may not occur if a buyer is found.

Founded in 1987 by brothers Brian and Bruce Boomsma, Dutch Farms, which is headquartered in the Pullman neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, remains a family-owned business whose branded offerings include cheese, eggs, milk, butter and other dairy products.

Brian Boomsma said Oberweis Dairy is “damaged goods,” but remains a good brand and a strategic acquisition for Dutch Farms, a leading regional dairy with national aspirations.

“It’s been horribly mismanaged, but it still has potentially good bones,” said Boomsma, 66.  “It fits into our wheelhouse, and we believe we can fix it.”

While Oberweis is a premium dairy product, Boomsma said it’s too expensive for most consumers.

Topping the repair list will be finding a way to streamline operations and improve efficiency so that Oberweis products cost less, he said.

“To be a successful brand, it needs to be more competitive than it is today,” Boomsma said.

Boomsma said he plans to keep the Oberweis brand, the North Aurora plant and at least for now, many of the company’s 1,149 employees, of which 933 work part time.

“We don’t have a plan or intention of putting anyone’s job at risk, other than if through this process we find someone’s not doing their job, and because of poor management, people have been able to get away with not working as they should be,” said Boomsma.

As a stalking horse bidder, the Dutch Farms owner set a minimum agreed price to buy the Oberweis Dairy assets but left the door open to a higher offer. Oberweis Dairy said in its news release it expects to complete the reorganization process and emerge from bankruptcy under a new owner in late June.

Late Tuesday, a potential rival bidder emerged, with the Hoffmann Family of Companies, a Winnetka-based private equity firm, announcing it has entered discussions to acquire all of the assets of Oberweis Dairy through its investment arm, Osprey Capital.

Geoff Hoffmann, co-CEO of Hoffmann Family of Companies, said the firm intended to make a competitive offer to buy Oberweis and was confident it would emerge as the highest bidder, based on due diligence.

“We obviously need to learn a lot more and to understand a little bit of how they’ve navigated some of the recent difficulties,” Hoffmann said Wednesday. “But our plan is to return Oberweis to its past successes, and we want the business to grow.”

Despite the competition, Boomsma still believes Dutch Farms is the right partner to lead Oberweis into its second century as a Chicago dairy institution.

“I’m better apt to know what to do operationally than most people,” Boomsma said. “I’m a milk guy.”

rchannick@chicagotribune.com