Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin named IPAP "Training Partner of the Year"

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
In Wisconsin, dairy remains an important $45.6 billion industry, accounting for nearly half of the state’s agriculture economic impact.

Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin have been working hard to both train cheese sellers and bring cheese buyers to the state to increase sales volume for dairy.

The Independent Procurement Alliance Program, a food service redistribution company that consolidates cheese orders for both large and small businesses, gave the award to DFW Aug. 5 because of their training initiatives for buyers and sellers. The multipronged approach oversaw the production of 18 training videos that educated sellers on the wide variety and style of Wisconsin cheeses.

The initiative also physically and virtually brought buyers to Wisconsin. Vice president of sales and international Rick Findlay said he's been happy to host them on farm tours, cheese processor tours, pairing events, sensory evaluations and more as a way for them to see what Wisconsin cheese is all about.

"It just means so much to come in, see the culture, see the passion ... (and) the rigor that it takes to become not just certified to be a cheesemaker, but even kicking it up a notch to become a master cheesemakers," Findlay said. "I would just basically tell people ... you can become a doctor faster than you can become a master cheesemaker."

Findlay said the organization will have its first in-person experience in a while this September in Green Bay, where they will visit several cheese companies and even the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin. He said the trips are extremely effective in showing buyers what they're getting when they purchase Wisconsin cheese.

Rick Findlay

The award comes as sales are slowly ticking back up in the dairy industry, Findlay said. While the pandemic saw a 20-30% drop in food service sales but increases in retail sales, the food service industry is now making up for that loss and retail has continued to stay strong. And with 90% of Wisconsin-produced cheese being exported to other states and countries, Wisconsin needs buyers and investors to become immersed in the culture, Findlay said.

"This is not just a vacation to Wisconsin – they're working pretty hard. ... These buyer missions are pretty important," Findlay said. "It's truly a learning experience. They come from all around the country."

Findlay said the training program is especially designed to get more unique varieties and styles on the kitchen or restaurant table as extra options alongside the more popular choices like mozzarella and cheddar. 

The award is an honor to DFW and especially to the dairy farmers who make it all happen, who Findlay said really deserve all the credit.

"People take it for granted that cheese just miraculously shows up in their restaurants or in their grocery stores. It really goes to all the dairy farmers," Findlay said. "They're the ones that deserve it because it's their resources that help us. We're just the face for them. And we're just thrilled to death to, on their behalf, bring ... more recognition to the state."