Dec. 2 2011 12:47 AM

California group's leader previously worked for New Zealand export giant Fonterra

Andrei MikhalevskyFiguratively speaking, the dairy business distance between the largest U.S. milk-producing state and the world's largest dairy-exporting nation will get a LOT shorter on January 1.

That's when Andrei Mikhalevesky (pronounced "make-a-left-ski") takes over as president and chief executive officer of California Dairies, Inc. He was recently selected by the CDI board of directors to succeed Richard Cotta, who retires on December 31 after 35 years in charge.

For the last five years, Mikhalevesky has been managing director of global ingredients and foodservices for Fonterra Cooperative Group, Inc., the world's largest exporter of dairy products. One of his primary responsibilities was developing and building Fonterra's global business partnerships. He also oversaw its research and innovation division and its branded export business in Latin America.

CDI is the largest dairy cooperative in California and the second largest in the nation. Its 450+ farmer members produce over 17 billion pounds of milk per year, significantly more than is produced in Idaho, the No. 3 dairy state. California is the largest dairy state by far at about 40 billion pounds per year. CDI produces 22 percent of the butter and 42 percent of the milk powder made in the U.S. each year.

Increased emphasis on global exportation of those products seems logical in the near future, given the scale of CDI's production, California's prime location for Pacific shipping distribution, and Mikhalevesky's experience, skill and relationships in international dairy product marketing.