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WMMB continues to build relationships with dairy processors

Feb. 9, 2012 | 0 comments

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) is continuing efforts that were begun several years ago to build relationships and connect Wisconsin dairy processors with those who buy their product.

As a liaison between the processor and buyer, and ultimately the consumer, WMMB helps with marketing efforts to capitalize on the Wisconsin brand name that has come to be a statement of quality on the product package.

Use of cheese in menus increasing

When directors met in Madison for their mid-year business review, they learned how the use of cheese in menus has grown.

CEO James Robson points out that a considerable amount of cheese is consumed on cheeseburgers at fast-food restaurants and many of these companies are beginning to top their hamburgers and sandwiches with quality, natural cheeses, not just American process cheese.

That, he says, means opportunity for Wisconsin.

Dave Leonhardi, director of food service and cheese education at WMMB, says the organization's goal is to hit the largest cheese-consuming segment of the food service channel - pizza and burgers.

Much of that effort begins by working with the distributors who serve restaurants. These include companies like Sysco, U.S. Foods, a company that is working with WMMB to develop an online training module and redesigning packages to identify the Wisconsin name, and conducting a national cheeseburger recipe contest.

WMMB also works with foodservice purchasing group partners including the Appleton-based Independent Procurement Alliance Program that sources Wisconsin cheese for their member distributors.

WMMB success stories

Stan Woodworth heads up the cheese promotional efforts for WMMB and says Wisconsin cheese popularity is slowly but surely growing and becoming competitive with European cheese that in the past was thought to be the high-end product.

He said some of the challenges include working with national distributors that source products at numerous places in the country and also dealing with restaurant chains and companies that merge and change ownership.

He offered examples of some of the success stories WMMB has enjoyed in the last year including work with the YUM brand that sold its A & W restaurants to the A & W franchise group Jan. 1 this year.

He said, "As a result of work we had been doing with the former owners, we are continuing our promotional efforts and we see this as a very progressive company that we expect to see grow in the future."

One of the big promotions going on right now is a cheese curd promotion.

He said the company is forecasting a 10-percent lift during the promotion period but Woodworth believes that growth could be even more. The cheese curds are manufactured at Ellsworth.

Another success story is WMMB's relationship with Country Kitchen, a company that has been striving to rebuild their business and has been identifying Wisconsin cheese in numerous places on the menu.

Woodworth says, "When a restaurant decides they want a particular kind of cheese on their menu we don't tell them where to get it. We just say, 'Here is a list of companies that make this cheese' and then they can sample the cheese and choose who they will buy from."

WMMB's role is to work with the culinary staff on developing new menu items using cheese and teach them how to enhance their menus with the inclusion of cheese as an ingredient.

Culvers has always used and promoted Wisconsin cheese and is an example of a company that promotes it aggressively in their ads on television, radio and newspapers.

As Culvers expands the numbers of restaurants that means increased demand for Wisconsin cheese. Other restaurants are beginning to follow their lead.

Allen Hendricks works with national foodservice accounts. His background is as a chef so he knows what chefs look for and how restaurants make decisions about what they will offer.

He operates on the premise that it is not just a matter of slapping the Wisconsin logo on the menu, but he wants chefs to develop new menu items using Wisconsin cheese.

He has been working with Maggianos Little Italy, cultivating a relationship with their culinary team.

Recently the culinary team visited BelGioioso on a tour sponsored by WMMB. The biggest part of their chain is the Chili's restaurants. WMMB is also working with others to do the same.

Cheese Education

Leonhardi says the focus of cheese education has remained the same in the last several years, with cheese education seminars held for channel partners and culinary schools, and by participating in national trade shows and events.

Sara Hill is a part of WMMB's educational team. She works with culinary schools, with the chef programs and with retail and foodservice channels.

For many years instructors in culinary schools featured European cheese because that's how they were taught, but Hill is now introducing Wisconsin cheese to the new chefs.

It takes time to actually see the results of that effort but it's a part of WMMB's effort in relationship-building.

Leonhardi also arranges Wisconsin tours of cheese plants and sometimes also dairy farms.

He says, "We track distribution patterns but it's really hard to know exactly what role the tours played in the promotional effort because every company is different in how they make buying decisions."

Leonhardi said what he does know is that demand for Wisconsin cheese is growing.

He offers an example of one particular company that had 61 Wisconsin items on their shelves and after the promotions they had 86 items.

Considering the company had 21 stores that translates into 126,000 pounds of additional cheese that was sold or about a million pounds of Wisconsin milk.

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