Venezuelan Food Producer To Invest In Plant

Food producer Empresas Polar said it will team up with Spanish conglomerate Grupo Leche Pascual to invest about $100 million in a new yogurt factory.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela's biggest private company, food producer Empresas Polar, said Tuesday that it will team up with Spanish conglomerate Grupo Leche Pascual to invest about $100 million in a new yogurt factory.

The companies plan to set up the plant in the north-central Venezuelan city of Valencia and have created a joint company, Pascual Andina, to carry out the project.

They plan to invest more than 450 million Venezuelan bolivars, or about $105 million, said Pablo Baraybar, director of Alimentos Polar, the Venezuelan corporation's food division.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to "go after" Polar earlier this year, calling it a monopoly and accusing it of evading government price controls on basic foodstuffs.

Polar has denied wrongdoing and has sought to demonstrate its commitment to doing business in the country, while Chavez has recently ordered the expropriation of other companies including a subsidiary of Owens-Illinois Inc. that manufactures glass containers used by Polar.

Tomas Melendez, international director for Grupo Leche Pascual, expressed confidence about the investment plans when asked about potential risk in Venezuela due to Chavez's threats against Polar.

"We trust in the country, we trust in the opportunities that exist, we trust in free enterprise," he said.

"The solution for this country is to invest, create work, new businesses," Baraybar said. "That's why we're in this investment, totally confident that it's going to be successful."

Empresas Polar dominates the food industry in Venezuela and is the country's largest private company, with about 30,000 employees. It produces grains, sauces, cheese, canned foods, jam, beer, animal food and other products.

Grupo Leche Pascual, based in the northern Spanish city of Burgos, produces dairy products, beverages and tortillas, among other products. Melendez said the investment in South America is a first step for his company, which is considering other investments in the region.

An initial $4.6 million has been spent to buy an existing factory and machinery, Baraybar said. The companies plan to have the plant completed in 16 months, and then plan to buy and install thousands of refrigerated cases to sell the yogurt in stores.
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