Schreiber Foods: The food giant you never heard of

Rick Barett
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Rachelle Madson looks at test tubes while demonstrating the usage of a gas chromatograph instrument at Schreiber Food's analytics lab on Sept. 20 in Green Bay.

Schreiber Foods is one of those quiet companies: You may not have heard of it, but you've almost certainly tasted its products.

Green Bay-based Schreiber, with $5 billion in annual sales and more than 7,000 employees, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheese and other dairy products sold under various brand names and served at restaurants around the world.

There’s a pretty good chance, for instance, that the cheeseburger you had at a fast-food restaurant was topped with Schreiber cheese.

That’s also the case with much of the cream cheese sold in grocery stores and served in restaurants.

The company also makes butter, ice cream, condensed skim milk and dairy desserts sold under its business customers' names. 

Schreiber doesn’t make those names public, so you probably wouldn’t know whether a particular brand is its product.

Industry heavyweight

But the company is a heavyweight in the food industry, with facilities in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Utah, Arizona and California. And it has plants in Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia and India.

Altogether, the company exports food to more than 55 countries.

Much of its growth in recent years has taken place outside the United States, said Andrew Tobisch, director of communications.

What began as a small cheese processing plant in Green Bay in 1945 is now a major global player in the food industry. 

“Natural cheese, processed cheese, cream cheese and yogurt are the primary things we do,” Tobisch said.

The company was founded by L.D. Schreiber, a butter-and-egg businessman from Chicago who partnered with Merlin Bush and Daniel Nusbaum to open a cheese plant in Green Bay.

The company, then known as L.D. Schreiber Cheese Co., followed a “16 ounces to the pound” philosophy, making sure a pound of cheese weighed just that: one pound.

It might sound obvious now, but in 1945, that wasn’t always the case with other cheesemakers, according to Tobisch. 

“There might be a thumb on the scale. You didn’t always get what you paid for,” he said.

In 1967, Schreiber began production of individually wrapped single slices of cheese, an important milestone in its business.

The new Schreiber Foods building in downtown Green Bay.

Growth spurt

The company's growth accelerated starting in the 1980s, with sales surpassing $1 billion in 1993 and $2 billion in 2001.

“We were primarily a processed cheese company that evolved into natural cheese, then cream cheese, and most recently yogurt,” Tobisch said. 

In 2002, Schreiber acquired St. Louis-based Raskas Foods, the largest private-label cream cheese producer in the country at that time.

Two years later, Schreiber acquired Level Valley Creamery in West Bend. That company’s plant had special areas dedicated to producing flavored cream cheeses such as strawberry, garden vegetable, blueberry, pumpkin and cranberry.

In 2005 Schreiber entered the yogurt market, further diversifying its product lineup.

Sales of private-label items have really taken off, with big retailers ratcheting up the market using their own brand names.

“More consumers are finding that the private labels are just as good, or maybe even a little better, than the name brands. I will put our food up against anybody’s,” Tobisch said.

In 2014, Schreiber built a new headquarters on the site of a former shopping mall that had become a blighted property, a block from the Fox River.

Until then, the company was housed in six buildings scattered across Green Bay, which made things like employee collaboration difficult.

The new headquarters has product research-and-development labs and kitchens where employees can simulate the facilities used by fast-food restaurants.

Sales first topped $5 billion in 2014 as the company entered the European yogurt market.

In 2016 the company built a new plant in Leon, Mexico, and this year it acquired a plant in Clery le Petit, France.

“We are a global company, and that’s how we operate. For us, there’s even more opportunity outside of the U.S.,” Tobisch said.

Midwestern manners

Still, the employee-owned business hasn’t forgotten its Midwestern manners.

For instance, when an employee is going through a difficult time in their life, others in the company will rally around them — sometimes from locations around the world.

“It’s a family atmosphere, more than just a place where you come to work every day,” Tobisch said.

Employees are encouraged to be involved in the community, and the company contributes generously to charities focused on basic needs.

And it still uses the “16 ounces to a pound” slogan.

“It’s not an everyday phrase now, but if you say it to one of our partners, there’s a pretty good chance they will know what you're talking about,” Tobisch said.