On the record with…Bill Davis

Getting personal: On the record with…Bill Davis

Lash, Eve

Fresh out of college, 24-year-old Bill Davis was passionate about the food industry. He wanted to sink his teeth into a prospective, profitable, edible and successful product. Upon graduation, he landed a job as a sales representative and marketing manager for Cabot Creamery. Davis began selling trailers of milk to bottlers in the Boston market and cheese to the government. On his first day on the job, the boss told him to create an office in the plant. He literally gathered a piece of plywood to create a desk. Nine years later, at the age of 35, Davis became Chief Executive Officer of Cabot, Vt.-based Cabot Creamery and catapulted it into major player status in the specialty cheese industry, now with sales of more than $120 million. In 1995, Davis started his own company, dubbed Waterbury Holdings of Vermont, with only one employee: himself. Davis and his partners acquired seven companies under the Waterbury umbrella and he is the largest stock holder. After 21 years in the industry, Davis along with Bob Constantino, are buying all partners out. They are renaming the company rondele Specialty Foods.

DF: Is there anything outside of your business life which you can compare to the challenge of running your business?

Davis: Bringing up two kids and supplying them with guidance, challenges and a good role model.

DF: What do you perceive as the company’s key areas for growth potential?

Davis: The key areas are meeting the changing life style needs of the consumer.Baby Boomers and two generations that follow are more adventurous consumers. They are trying new flavors. They want more convenience. They are much more educated and worldly – and accordingly, they are demanding higher quality and more sophisticated products. Because there is so much consolidation in the industry, larger processors are not able to bring new products to the market very quickly.

DF: What do you see as the biggest challenges before you as a company leader in the next five years?

Davis: I see all challenges as positive opportunities. The challenge is to select the proper long-term product niche or opportunity and stay focused on it. With rondele Speciality Foods we are developing products to broaden the gourmet spreadable cheese category. One of these products, under the Pub brand (in a new larger size) is now for cooking and everyday use in meal preparation. In addition, foodservice is going to be a big part of our future, to use our spreadable cheeses as a sandwich ingredient. French ham with rondele is a great combination. We are also focused on the growing category of bagel-spreads. We have developed a bagel spread that does not require refrigeration. Therefore, we can merchandise it near the bagel section in the supermarket bakery We just created a new flavored sour cream product that is frozen and can be thawed. This product could be used in frozen Fajita kits, twiced-baked potatoes and other frozen convenience food kits. The food industry has never been more dynamic and there have never been more opportunities.

DF: Describe your typical day:

Davis: I am an early riser. I get up at 5 a.m. The first hour I do domestic things, such as watering plants, doing laundry and listening to peaceful music, like pianist George Winston. I get to the office between 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. and work until 5:30 p.m. Then I go and work out at the YMCA, stretch and take a steam bath to relieve stress. I then go home and cook. I’m a big griller and a big salad person. I enjoy cooking lots of roasted vegetables and other nutritious foods. I prepare nothing from a can.

DF: How do you work to your best potential?

Davis: I need to have a heavy work load. One of my areas of concentration is considering where we need to be in two to three years. I like to be very hands-on with finance, marketing and plant operations on a strategic level. I like to motivate people and give them the resources to get their jobs done – and support them along the way.

DF: What do you think the future holds for specialty cheese and flavored cheese?

Davis: When we look at Europeans they consume twice the pounds of cheese as Americans. The trend in the United States is more varieties and flavors. The specialty cheese can be part of that with new products, like bagel spreads and flavored gourmet cheeses. The other major opportunity for the future lies in extended shelf life and cross merchandising. We have developed programs with companies like Gallo Wine merchandising cheese in the wine section. We are working on a cross merchandising program with Green Mountain Coffee, Waterbury, Vt., to set up breakfast centers in convenience stores. Gourmet coffee, bagels and flavored spreads would be featured.

We are manufacturing gourmet cheeses that can be sold in non-refrigerated gift packs, because of our extended shelf life technology. In addition, we are looking into extended shelf life gourmet cheeses for hotel mini bars. We look at products that can be sold out of conventional channels. For 1999, we have three new focus areas: An all natural line, bread spreads and wrap spreads. There needs to be a national player to supply those channels for retail and foodservice. We want to always stay ahead of the curve. DF

Copyright Stagnito Publishing Nov 1998

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