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Inside part of Muller Quaker Dairy’s new plant in the Town of Batavia, packages of yogurt wind their way through a conveyor system, ready for shipment to retailers around the country.

What is striking is how relatively empty the vast room is. Muller Quaker officials say the unused space is a sign of the plant’s potential.

“We built the facility with an eye on the future by design, with ample room to expand,” said Sam Lteif, chief executive officer of Muller Quaker Dairy, at Monday’s grand opening.

The 350,000-square-foot plant has three production lines operating, with room for five more. About 130 employees work there now; that total is expected to rise to 180 as production ramps up.

The $200 million plant is a joint venture between PepsiCo and the Theo Muller Group that represents an aggressive push by PepsiCo into the U.S. yogurt market.

The project is also paying dividends locally, by creating new jobs, new development for the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, and demand for milk from local dairy farms through the Upstate Niagara Cooperative. Part of the production at the Batavia plant involves Greek-style yogurt, which is gaining in popularity and requires more milk to make than traditional yogurt.

PepsiCo chief executive officer and chairman Indra Nooyi and top Theo Muller Group officials were joined by Sen. Charles E. Schumer to celebrate the plant’s debut.

Nooyi called the new Batavia plant “an important step in PepsiCo’s growth and transformational journey,” as the company famous for cola tries to further diversify its product line. It aims to increase its revenues in what Nooyi called the “good for you” product category. “Yogurt is one of the fastest-growing snacking products here in the United States and we want to be part of this growing trend.”

Schumer voiced his support for proposed federal legislation that would provide tax incentives to dairy farmers to help them expand their milk-making capacity. And he said Muller Quaker Dairy’s presence could encourage other food-processing businesses to expand into the same business park. Another company already there is Alpina Foods, a smaller yogurt plant that opened last fall.

Nooyi credited Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman, who was in the audience, with urging PepsiCo to get into the yogurt business and to build a plant in upstate New York, given the region’s numerous dairy farms.

Wegman said later “it just made sense” to suggest PepsiCo open a yogurt plant in upstate. “They knew that they should be here. Look at all the milk we produce.”

Among the other VIPs on hand Monday was Theo Muller, owner of Luxembourg-based Theo Muller Group. Muller, whose German remarks were translated, recalled that his company had previously attempted to expand its operations into the U.S., to no avail. The opportunity that would become the Batavia plant came along in 2010. “At the time I thought, ‘Not again, another try at the United States,’ ” he said to chuckles. But he said his son, Stefan, who is on the company’s board, “kind of took the ball and ran with it.”

“So now comes the big job of selling the products,” Muller said.

Muller Quaker Dairy’s arrival – along with growth by other area companies in the food-processing industry – has led to more education and training courses offered through Genesee Community College, Cornell University and the Rochester Institute of Technology, said Steve Hyde, president and CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center. The goal is to expand the pool of trained workers to create an ample supply to serve those companies.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com