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The Seattle-based Darigold, Inc. is closing its Salt Lake City milk processing plant by the end of July, laying off 96 employees.

Darigold purchased the old Cream o' Weber plant in the fall of 2010, but intense competition from other producers and rising costs have forced its closure, company officials said.

The plant, located at 2323 S. 900 West, is the most distant from the dairy cooperative' headquarters and the bulk of its farmers, who primarily are located in the Pacific Northwest.

Products, however, will still be available in Utah grocery stores, such as Smith's Food & Drug, Walgreens and Walmart.

"We are saddened by the closure but the losses incurred at the plant and our projections have been inescapable," said Steve Rowe, Darigold senior vice president. "We do have open positions across the country, and we encourage employees in Salt Lake City to apply."

Darigold is a cooperative of 530 dairy farmers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California and a handful of producers in northern Utah. The cooperative's remaining 12 plants will continue to process milk, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt and other cultured dairy products under both private labels and the Darigold brand.

In 2009, Darigold's total export revenues were over $500 million with significant sales in Mexico, Canada, South America, the Middle East, China, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia.

Darigold, the trade name of the Northwest Dairy Association, handles 8 billion pounds of milk each year, with annual sales totaling $2 billion.