Midwestern flair

Midwestern flair

Smith, Pamela Accetta

[white square] Regional producers affirm their staying power.

In order to achieve and maintain success in the dairy industry, a company needs competitive advantages. Today’s processors must build brand trust and have a pointed understanding of consumer needs. And maintaining strength as a regional player takes awareness, understanding, enthusiasm in defining brand identity, well-formulated products, achieving clarity and leverage in package design, building a brand based on tradition, exceptional customer service, a well-defined approach, organization and consciousness, knowing what to avoid, precise execution and strategy.

Strong regional dairy processors have become increasingly rare as the industry’s giants systematically snatch up the nation’s smaller businesses.

Moreover, sustaining vigor in an aggressive industry does not come without its challenges. According to some of the nation’s strongest regional forces, success also takes a strong ideology, commitment to company history and philosophy, innovation and, above all else, product quality.

Regional powerhouses generally agree their longevity comes from giving customers what they’ve come to expect: a sense of ownership, trust in product character and company pride that can only come from valued consistency – providing them with what’s been lost in corporate America and insisting that these traditions be upheld.

What follows is an exploration of some of the Midwest’s strongest players.

Swiss Valley Farms Co. Davenport, Iowa

IN THE LATE 1880s, farmers of the upper Midwest desiring to develop local markets for their milk and cream, organized small cooperative creameries and cheese factories.

The successful cooperatives, able to maximize returns from the milk produced by their member-owners, attracted new members, merged with other cooperatives, matured and prospered.

From its beginning in 1959, Davenport, Iowa-based farmer-owned cooperative Swiss Valley Farms Co. has evolved into a progressive, efficient organization. “While member-owners direct and motivate the business of the cooperative, each and every employee also shares responsibility for the company’s success, contributing expertise to all phases of the business,” says Gene Quast, chief executive officer. “Investing in our people and adherence to uncompromising standards of excellence, a commitment to innovation and dedication to customer satisfaction, has strongly stimulated the cooperative’s growth.”

Steadfast in its approach, Swiss Valley Farms adheres to a strong set of values; the company’s vision, mission and philosophy all underscore the importance of remaining true to the farmer, employee, supplier and consumer.

Swiss Valley Farms operates five corporate divisions – Manufacturing, Ag Service, Procurement, Fluid Milk and Rochester Cheese.

The Manufacturing division is widely known for its premium specialty cheeses and consists of three cheese plants and one packaging plant. The cheese plants produce several types of specialty cheeses including traditional Swiss, baby Swiss, smoked Swiss, cream cheese, Neufchatel cheese, Danish-style blue cheese and gorgonzola.

With 10 farm supply and grain locations in eastern Iowa, Swiss Valley Farms’ Ag Service division services 2,000 farmer members. The division is primarily a supply and marketing cooperative with core businesses in agronomy, feed and grain.

According to Quast, Swiss Valley Farms’ Procurement division is the cornerstone of the cooperative. “The Procurement division works directly with the 1,500 member farms that make up the company,” he says. “This division oversees the collection and testing of the members’ raw milk and transports it to the many locations in the cooperative where it is converted into value-added, marketable products.”

The Fluid Milk division comprises two fluid milk plants and one cultured products plant. These facilities are centrally located for raw-milk ingredients and centralized distribution.

Located in Dubuque, Iowa, and Chicago, the fluid milk plants produce and package a wide variety of products including milk, orange juice, lemonade, eggnog, creams, half and half, iced tea, drinks and water. The company’s fluid milk marketing area encompasses Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

A cultured products plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, manufactures cottage cheese, sour cream, dips, yogurt, cream cheese and a number of other specialty products for the food manufacturing industry.

Swiss Valley Farms supplies its products to grocery stores, grocery warehouses, convenience stores, foodservice companies, schools and other food manufacturers. The products are distributed throughout the United States in a wide variety of sizes and innovative package designs.

The Rochester Cheese operation is a wholly-owned subsidiary that shreds, grates and custom formulates hard Italian cheeses for retail and industrial customers.

Swiss Valley Farms remains a big proponent of getting milk vending machines in schools and is a longtime provider of school milk for districts in their area. The company continues to work hard to ensure that healthy dairy vending becomes a way of life at schools across the nation.

In the news early this year, Swiss Valley Farms became the first processor to license the Deja Moo milk brand from American Dairy Corp., Bismarck, N.D. Deja Moo’s sculpted 1.5- and 3-liter plastic bottles, with their stylish label sporting a guitar-strumming cow, were created to target a younger demographic.

Deja Moo, bottled in Swiss Valley Farms’ Dubuque, Iowa, plant, is available at supermarkets in eastern Iowa and hit the Quad Cities in March before Swiss Valley Farms’ systemwide launch.

Great Lakes Cheese Co. Hiram, Ohio

IT WAS 1958 when Hans Epprecht, a Swiss immigrant, bought a small company that delivered cheese to neighborhood stores in Cleveland. As the customer base grew, a larger facility was needed to cut, package and ship the domestic and international cheese products, so the company moved to a larger facility in Newbury, Ohio, in 1963.

To meet additional demand in the private label packaging segment and increase distribution channels, a second packaging plant in Plymouth, Wis., was acquired in 1983. The Plymouth facility was moved to its present location in 1990.

The company first moved into the cheese manufacturing business in 1985 when it purchased a cheese plant in Adams, N.Y. Since the acquisition of this cheddar making facility, Great Lakes Cheese has continued to expand the Adams plant in both physical size and production capacity.

A second manufacturing facility in Cuba, N.Y., was purchased in 1993. Today this plant, Empire Cheese, manufactures, packages and ships provolone and mozzarella cheese.

In 1995, Great Lakes Cheese purchased a processed cheese plant in LaCrosse, Wis. This addition allowed Great Lakes to expand on its product base to include a full line of processed cheese products.

Because of increased production requirements and lack of expansion capabilities at the Newbury, Ohio, plant, Great Lakes Cheese began construction of a 220,000-square-foot facility in Hiram, Ohio, in 1997. The completion of this facility in June 1998 allowed for additional packaging lines, as well as an expanded corporate headquarters.

Further expansion plans included the construction of a new packaging plant in Fillmore, Utah, completed in fall 2001. Addition of this facility has allowed Great Lakes Cheese to further expand its customer base and increase distribution in the western United States.

From humble beginnings, Great Lakes Cheese has grown to be one of the largest privately owned cheese companies in the United States, providing its customers with consistently high-quality cheese products.

This year, Great Lakes Cheese set a new record at the 2003 United States Championship Cheese Contest. The company won an unprecedented three Best Of Class Gold Awards at the contest hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. The Best Of Class awards were for aged cheddar, provolone and whole-milk mozzarella. In addition, eight other Great Lakes Cheese entries earned top-10 recognition in this contest that featured nearly 700 entries from throughout the United States.

A select panel of 10 expert, independent judges evaluated entries on many quality attributes including flavor, body, texture and finish.

In the past 15 years, Great Lakes Cheese has earned no less than 75 major awards in regional and national competitions.

Truly a company with national scope, Great Lakes Cheese remains privately held with more than 20 percent of company ownership shared by employees. Today, the company is ranked as one of America’s top cheese producers, with 2002 sales of $851 million.

Primary customers include supermarket chains, club stores, national accounts and food service distributors plus industrial accounts throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Cheeses manufactured by the company directly from raw materials are sold under a wide variety of private labels and the Great Lakes name. In addition, many popular imported cheeses are available. In total, the company markets more than 60 types of cheese, making it a “one-stop” supplier for many of its customers.

Through the traditions of a family-owned business with a long-term focus on growth and stability, Great Lakes’ mission is to be a leading manufacturer and supplier of consistently high-quality cheese products.

The company says it will achieve this through its commitment to outstanding customer service, innovation, dedicated employees and business partnerships. This will be accomplished in an environment of open communication, integrity and mutual respect where every person is encouraged to go beyond what is expected, and profitability is a success only if the customers, the suppliers, the employees, the communities and the company benefit.

Oberweis Dairy Inc. North Aurora, Ill.

MILKMEN MAY SEEM like an anachronism in an era of fast food and mega merchants. But dairy processors who continue to provide home delivery service say this distribution practice won’t disappear as long as consumers continue to crave the convenience of having fresh products delivered to their door. Leading the pack of those still in the home-delivery game is Oberweis Dairy.

Oberweis offers an extensive product lineup. In addition to the company’s whole, reduced-fat, fat-free and chocolate milk, trucks carry such products as Oberweis’ award-winning ice cream, cheeses, sour cream, whipping cream, yogurt, farm-fresh eggs, spring water, cookie batter, chicken breasts and more.

Oberweis delivers its milk and other products to the front stoops of about 35,000 homes, most in the Chicago area, with its fleet of modern trucks. The goal of this company is as clear as its glass bottles are old-fashioned: Grow the business by providing quality service and products.

Oberweis has been doing home delivery since 1927 and it continues to be a thriving part of its business.

Oberweis milk, which comprises most of the company’s home-delivery requests, carries an 18-day shelf life and is transported in dual-temperature trucks. The company truly believes it processes the best-tasting milk in the industry.

The company has transfer centers set up strategically in its distribution area where the milk trucks can load up their product and them carry out their routes. Milkmen typically start delivering around midnight with a second shift starting around 9 a.m.

Like an old art form, the Oberweis is still using glass bottles. “We don’t think milk should taste like plastic – just milk, pure and simple,” the company says. “We don’t believe in adding anything unnecessary to our milk either.” Oberweis milk is purchased from family-owned dairy farmers who pride themselves on not treating their dairy cows with synthetic growth hormones.

Oberweis, which currently applies a shrink-sleeve band and tear-off ring around the caps of its milk bottles, will soon launch new tamper-evident seals. The company will be converting all of its half- gallon glass bottles to a newer tamper-evident closure. Oberweis worked with a Canadian bottle supplier to design a custom closure. The new feature will also enhance processing efficiency.

Hand in hand with protection and ease of use is safety assurance. As Oberweis developed its new secure cap, safety was an equally important issue. The quality of the new seal creates a tighter seal, thus protecting the integrity of the product.

The actual milk bottle itself also guards the safety of the product. Clear glass bottles protect and extend the quality of Oberweis’ milk. The milk stays colder longer and the glass bottle helps with freshness, particularly in its distribution area.

On the frozen side of things, for nearly 50 years, Oberweis has manufactured ice cream using the finest ingredients and time-tested quality processing. In fact, Oberweis has 26 ice cream and dairy stores located throughout Chicago and St. Louis.

Now serving customers in Chicago, Northwest Indiana, Central Illinois and St. Louis, the company continues to deliver quality products.

Oberweis is, and probably will remain, family owned and operated, some say, a clear advantage over corporate processors.

Copyright Stagnito Publishing Jul 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved