Starbucks axes Elmhurst Dairy

Elmhurst Dairy was Starbucks's official milk provider for eight years. Photo by Ivan Pereira
By Ivan Pereira

City leaders are fighting one of the nation’s most popular coffee chains, which announced it ended its partnership with a Jamaica-based milk company after eight years of business.

Elmhurst Dairy Inc. has challenged Starbucks with a lawsuit filed in Queens Civil Court on the chain’s decision to stop using its milk products in the 256 stores in all five boroughs and go with milk produced by an upstate milk plant run by Dean Foods Co.

Elmhurst Dairy workers joined elected officials June 15 at City Hall, two days before the change of providers, to protest the change they say would affect 700 union workers.

“Elmhurst Dairy is an invaluable institution in our city, not only as a provider of dairy products for New Yorkers, but as a longtime employer and good corporate citizen,” said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who attended the rally with other elected officials, including City Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Borough President Helen Marshall.

The Jamaica plant, at 155-25 Styler Road is the only milk plant in New York City and has been family-owned since the 1880s. It produces 1.5 million gallons of milk a day that are sold in grocery stores in the city, Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester County and given to public schoolchildren.

“Elmhurst Dairy provides well-paying jobs to hundreds of New Yorkers and provides the milk that has literally fed generations of the city’s residents,” Elmhurst Dairy owner and president Henry Schwartz said in a statement.

Starbucks, however, denied it is hurting Elmhurst’s operations and unfairly ceased its business with the plant, which began in 2003.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle-based coffee chain said Elmhurst refused to participate in a “dairy-sourcing request for proposals” in the fall and as a result Starbucks went with Dean Foods which submitted a bid.

The spokeswoman added that Starbucks only constituted 10 percent of Elmhurst’s daily business.

She also said one of Elmhurst’s distributors told the company in a court affidavit, “If Elmhurst lost the Starbucks volume, it would not have to lay anyone off, but rather it would merely cut the substantial overtime it is currently giving its workers.”

A Queens Civil Court judge has ordered an additional hearing for June 27 for the Elmhurst Dairy challenge, but in the meantime Starbucks said it is working with its new distributor to ensure a seamless transition that does not disrupt its customers.

Elected officials noted that Queens has lost more than 9,000 manufacturing jobs over the last five years, such as the shut down of the Wonder Bread factory in the winter.

Gillibrand announced new plans Tuesday that would provide competitive grants to manufacturing firms and tax incentives if they operate in New York.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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