A native of Slovakia has been tapped to become the new operations director at Leitchfield’s Bel Brands USA plant.
Vladimir Homola replaces longtime Leitchfield operations director Francine Moudry, who will become project director to lead planning and construction of Bel’s third U.S. production plant.
Bel Brands, the U.S. subsidiary of Paris-based Fromageries Bel, had looked at several locations for the new plant, including Kentucky, before narrowing its search to Iowa and South Dakota. An announcement of the chosen site could come by the end of the year,
Homola is already in Leitchfield, working with Moudry during a transition period, and was recently introduced to the community at an industry appreciation luncheon. Moudry is tentatively scheduled to begin her new position Jan. 1.
Homola had been plant manager at Bel’s production facility in Michalovce, Slovakia, since 2006. That plant produces Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel products for export, as well as other processed and natural cheese products.
Before working for Bel, the 41-year-old worked in Slovakia for United Kingdom-based Tate & Lyle, a global starch and sugar manufacturer.
Homola attended the University of Comenius in Slovakia, and has a master’s degree in mathematics and biology. He and his wife, Maria, are expecting their fifth child in February. The family plans to live in the Leitchfield area.
“I want to build on the great job done by Francine Moudry in Leitchfield, both in the plant and on the community side,” Homola said. “Start-up of new production and a substantial increase in capacity is a big challenge in itself, but we have great resources and great employees who are willing to work.”
Homola said he could “judge based on just one week with my new Leitchfield team that the openness, proactivity, support and enthusiasm of all the employees…that we will be successful in fulfilling our goals.”
He said moving here and starting a new position is “from a professional point of view, like jumping onto a running train. I will need to quickly become familiar with local people in the plant and the region so we can work well together.”
Moudry, 50, was born in the Alsace region of France. She earned her master’s degree in biochemistry and an engineering degree in the dairy industry at French universities, and went on to receive a doctorate in food science.
She started at Bel in 1988 in research and development, then worked in quality control for a Laughing Cow plant in France. She came to Leitchfield in 1994 as quality manager, and was named technical manager in 2002. She was appointed plant manager in 2007.
Under her tenure, the plant has grown from 298 employees to 423, and tripled production. The plant recently expanded, and has been operating a third shift.
She said her greatest accomplishment here has been increasing production and staffing. “Continuing to add quality jobs has helped to establish us as an important source of hope for Leitchfield in this tough economy. We have helped put this plant and Leitchfield on the map.”
In fact, Bel Brands’ web site notes that most of the Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel cheese sold in the United States is made at the Leitchfield plant.
Moudry said she regrets leaving Leitchfield with work uncompleted. “We are still hoping to increase production and add more jobs, and I would have liked to have been here to see that. We planted a seed and it will bear fruit, but I would have liked to have seen that.
“Leitchfield is my home and it will always be my home, because my family is here. We have the best employees, who care so much about this community, and I would like to say thank you to the community leaders, all of our employees, and everyone for your support of this plant, and for allowing me to be part of this fantastic adventure.”
She said she believes her biggest challenge at the new plant may be bringing “several cultures together. They are not used to us French.”
Bel bought the Leitchfield plant in 1970, when it acquired Avalon Cheese. At that time, there were 28 local employees making four million pounds of cheese annually. The plant began making the Laughing Cow cheeses in 1974, and added the Babybel line in 1979. The plant expanded last year.
Bel Brands USA’s net sales now are approximately $300 million annually, with more than 30 million pounds of cheese made locally each year.
The company’s other existing U.S. plant in Little Chute, Wis., makes spreadable cheeses such as Kaukauna brands.