Cheese carver Sarah Kaufmann travels around the country promoting cheese. When she does, she brings with her additional free advance promotion and advertising that attracts customers to the retail outlets selling Wisconsin cheese. She also talks about the benefits of cheese while she carves. Photo By Gloria Hafemeister
Cultivating a market for dairy products
Farmers understand the concept of preparing the field, planting the seed and then cultivating for growth. It takes time and patience before they can see the results.
Directors on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) have learned the same is true when it comes to cultivating a market for their products.
During the board’s meeting in Madison on Thursday, Stan Woodworth described how WMMB has been building relationships in response to the many changes in the retail and food service industry.
Woodworth said, “It’s all about building relationships. We’re now starting to capitalize on some of those relationships we have been building over the years.”
Woodworth and other staff members working with channel management explained how they connect the dairy industry with retailers and consumers.
One of the big accomplishments of WMMB as a result of years of building relationships has been the Wisconsin “branding” concept.
Companies are now recognizing that putting the Wisconsin name and logo on their packages is a statement of quality, he illustrates.
WMMB’s FY2011 budget included extra emphasis on promoting cheese for pizza and burgers. This was based on continued market research indicating that about one-fourth of all cheese consumed in the U.S. is eaten on pizza.
The current economy has also resulted in more people eating in pizzerias rather than in up-scale restaurants.
Frozen pizza business increasing
The economy has also led to more interest in frozen pizzas and that business has exploded.
WMMB is continuing work with companies like Emil’s Pizza, based in Watertown, and Palermos, from Milwaukee.
Both companies are enjoying increased sales and are committed to using 100 percent Wisconsin cheese and labeling their product accordingly.
As a result of a four-year relationship that was developed with Jack’s Pizza, WMMB is now helping the company launch a new national expansion promotion that features the Wisconsin name and logo on the label.
When WMMB started working with the company they were basically local, but they are now a part of the larger Nestle and they have gone national in their marketing.
Cathy Hart, WMMB’s director of cheese company communications, says Jack’s Pizza started out local and then moved into east coast marketing but now the company has gone nationwide as they develop a relationship with Wal-Mart.
That has meant an 11-percent increase in sales and Wisconsin is benefiting since they continue to use Wisconsin cheese and put that on the label as a statement of quality.
Woodworth further points out, “We’re hoping to continue to develop a long-term relationship with Nestle and their other dairy products as a result of our work with Jack’s Pizza. We’re learning a lot in working with a company like this.”
He adds, “What makes this work is it’s a three-way partnership between Foremost, Nestle and WMMB.”
Director Bob Letter, Seymour, points out that the Foremost Farms USA plant in Appleton expanded its cheese-producing capacity in order to meet the extra demand and that means more competition for milk.
Relationship building has been important for the regional marketing managers who are striving to increase the distribution of Wisconsin cheese throughout the country.
Pete Buol talked about work with retailers to help promote Wisconsin cheese in their stores. The effort has been in the areas where there are big concentrations of large stores.
One of the success stories has been with Kroger, a company that is now the largest traditional grocery chain in the country with 2,200 super markets and 650 convenience stores.
He also mentioned that Wal-Mart has begun using Wisconsin cheese as a way of promoting the local, homegrown concept.
Buol said discussions with many of the retailers about specialty cheese promotions led to increased sales in those areas but he stresses, “We also tell the buyers that we also want some volume product like the cheddars. Before we agree to do a road show promotion we got them to agree to that.”
WMMB, in partnership with cheese processors and retailers, is assisting with in-store retail promotions.
Many of the stores are seeing the benefit of using cheese carver Sarah Kaufmann, as a way to attract customers and draw attention to their Wisconsin cheese promotion.
Buol points out, “When she goes into a market she connects with the local media two or three weeks before she comes. That provides additional free publicity for our cheese and for the retailer where she will be doing the carving.”
WMMB has also increased work with mail order partners, promoting the Wisconsin name on the label and, recognizing the growth of dairy sales in convenience stores.
They are even working with stores like Dollar General and Walgreens, assisting with Wisconsin promotions.
Kwik Trip, based in LaCrosse, is becoming a major supplier of dairy products and the company is now beginning to put the Wisconsin name and logo on their packages.
Dollar General, with 9,400 stores around the country, has added dairy and is currently using Wisconsin-labeled butter.
Walgreens is doing a test market in Chicago to determine whether they will add a cheese section. Their test market is featuring Wisconsin cheese.
Hart says, “We are the central point area to talk with cheese and dairy companies about our programs and how we can help.”
The key function of her department is to talk with cheese companies about how WMMB can help and she said there has been a lot of increased interest in the last six months.
Besides the partnership between Foremost, Jack’s Pizza and WMMB, there have been many other success stories including Crystal Farms recognition of Wisconsin on their label and in their advertising.
The Lake Mills-based company has now made 45 label changes to include the Wisconsin brand. She says, “That opens the door for our regional managers to work with their stores and delis on promotions.”