A 'well-kept secret': Dairyfood USA has huge market in U.S.It's a good bet that if you asked people from this area to name two or three successful cheese operations in this part of the state, nobody would think to mention Dairyfood USA.
By: By Rob Schultz, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
BLUE MOUNDS -- It's a good bet that if you asked people from this area to name two or three successful cheese operations in this part of the state, nobody would think to mention Dairyfood USA.
One reason is that it makes extended shelf-life -- or processed -- cheeses. Some cheese fans might scoff at such products being made in the shadows of some of the world's greatest natural cheesemakers right here in America's Dairyland.
It's also hard to find any extended shelf-life cheese products with Dairyfood USA's company label on them. That's because it makes specialty spreads, bars, wedges and naturally smoked cheeses for a wide-ranging list of companies in the gift-pack, airline, food service, snack and retail industries, and they put their own labels on them.
"We are, in my opinion, a very well-kept secret," Dairyfood USA president Dan Culligan said.
Dairyfood USA had $43 million in revenues last year.
John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, knows all about Dairyfood USA, which is owned by an Austrian holding company called the Artax Group. He said Dairyfood USA has developed a strong reputation for producing quality, in-demand, specialty products.
"They are filling a niche that natural cheese (makers) can't fill," Umhoefer said. "And that's a real good thing."
Wal-Mart's cheese carrying the Great Value label as well as extended shelf-life cheese products sold at Costco, Aldi, Kroger, Sam's Club, Woodman's and other supermarkets and club stores across the country are made at Dairyfood USA. So are Weight Watchers' cheese wedges, which are distributed by Schreiber Foods in Green Bay. They also sell their products directly to Boar's Head and Crystal Farms.
The smoked gouda on Panera Bread's Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwiches is made by Dairyfood USA, which is located in an 85,000-square-foot building in Blue Mounds. Dairyfood USA makes 90 percent of the smoked gouda sold in the U.S., Culligan said.
Dairyfood USA also makes millions of pounds of cheese in the form of spreads, wedges and bars for companies that specialize in selling gift foods like Monroe's Swiss Colony and Marshfield's Figi's, Culligan said.
Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, said nobody should thumb their nose at processed cheeses, most of which are sold as single slices or for fast food. "It's a very nutritious product, very similar to natural cheese," said Sommer.
Dairyfood USA makes its products with all-natural cheese purchased mostly from Wisconsin cheesemakers, according to Culligan. It grinds up the cheese, processes it with emulsifying salts and then pasteurizes it and pours it into whatever configuration is called for by the customer.
Sommer said Dairyfood USA's products are similar to the processed cheeses sold by European companies, which have taken it to another level with its complexities, varieties and flavors. "I tip my hat to Dairyfood USA for going in that direction," Sommer added. "They have found their niche. Kudos to them."
Dairyfood USA has European roots. It started as Stauffer Cheese in 1953 after Alex Stauffer, who owned a processed cheese company in Hungary, escaped from the Soviet-occupied country and settled in Blue Mounds. It was purchased by a large Austrian dairy co-op in 1982 and was re-named Lactoprot USA in 1995.
After the Artax group purchased it in 1998, it changed its name to Dairyfood USA in 2007 to better reflect the company's expanding focus on consumer products. Culligan, who joined the company at about the same time Artax bought it, previously worked for a sausage company as vice president in charge of sales and marketing.
When Culligan arrived, about 75 percent of Dairyfood USA's business went to gift companies like Swiss Colony and the now-defunct Wisconsin Cheeseman. It was closed during the spring and early summer months because most of its products weren't needed until the holidays.
Under Culligan, just 20 percent of Dairyfood USA's business today goes to gift cheese companies. It has spent $6 million in recent improvements that include new wedge-makers, four cookers and a fully automated smokehouse and operates almost around the clock, 52 weeks a year.
Culligan said revenues have nearly tripled since he arrived in 1998 and proudly gave the credit for that, as well as Dairyfood's continued safe quality food certification, to its 135 hard-working employees.
"Not everybody can do this, not everybody has the capabilities to do this or the technology to do this," Culligan said. "This is much more difficult to produce, with all due respect, than making cheddar. I've had people in the natural cheese industry tell me that very same thing."
(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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