Far removed from coastal shipping ports, the Iowa dairy cooperative has found its own unique path to exporting success.
A seed planted in the export market eight years ago has grown into a $36 million annual proposition for Swiss Valley Farms, an Iowa dairy cooperative that now ships cheese, whey powder and dairy ingredients to 23 countries.
Swiss Valley Farms keeps finding new ways to build its export business, even during a global dairy market downturn. That resourcefulness has earned it the 2016 Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year Award.
The award is presented annually to the U.S. dairy supplier that exemplifies leadership in advancing U.S. dairy exports, demonstrates commitment to export market development and makes exports an integral part of its overall growth strategy. Sponsored by the U.S. Dairy Export Council and presented by Dairy Foods magazine, the award will be presented to Swiss Valley Farms executives October 13 during the USDEC Annual Board of Directors and Membership Meeting in Arlington, Virginia.
"We're extremely honored and grateful for the recognition," said Swiss Valley Farms CEO Chris Hoeger, adding he looks forward to continued growth in export sales and having it be a strong part of the company's future.
If it weren't for the employees and the strong support provided by the U.S. Dairy Export Council, "it wouldn't be possible for a company of our size to even think about exporting" to so many countries, Hoeger said.
With annual sales of about $400 million, Swiss Valley Farms isn't as large as some of the previous Exporter of the Year winners, and being located in the Midwest means it is far removed from coastal shipping ports. The company, with corporate headquarters in Davenport, Iowa, operates five cheese production facilities located in Luana, Iowa; Shullsburg and Mindoro, Wisconsin; and Rochester and Faribault, Minnesota.
The flagship cheese plant in Luana is surrounded by corn fields, which accentuates its northeast Iowa location.
"Despite what many would dis miss as geographically uncompetitive production locations, through careful planning and investments in staff and marketing, Swiss Valley Farms has developed a sustainably growing export business in cheeses and whey proteins," said USDEC President Tom Suber.
The co-op has found its own unique path to success.
Swiss Valley offers a high-quality product, backed by a dedicated support staff, to selected segments of the export market. "That is what Swiss Valley Farms is trying to target rather than getting into the price or commodity game," Hoeger said.
Other accomplishments include:
A focused effort on exports, starting in 2008. Exports have since escalated to the point where they now represent 9 percent of total company sales.
A 58 percent increase in cream cheese and whey powder export sales over the past three years.
An ability to maintain export sales despite downturns in the broader U.S. dairy export market. Over the past two to three years, Swiss Valley Farms has had a month or two that have might be characterized as "soft," but overall "our export sales have remained pretty solid and consistent," Hoeger said.
A dedicated export division with two sales representatives who represent the company around the world. In addition, a customer service department that is fully trained and equipped to handle any customer issues, export paperwork and documentation.
A $20.6 million expansion that's currently underway at its flagship Luana, Iowa, cheese plant. "The growth in the production capacity of the plant is going to be on the cheese side, so it will significantly add more whey available to be exported and sold domestically," Hoeger said.
Sales to 23 countries around the world, including Canada, Mexico, China, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, along with countries in Middle East, Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
A growing network of sales contacts, including customers, distributors and brokers. A majority of those contacts have been made through the support and resources of USDEC, Hoeger said. The company has also attended the Gulfood Show in Dubai/United Arab Emirates and the Seoul Food Show in South Korea.
A long history of making high-quality and award-winning cheeses, whey and dairy ingredients.
Bottom line: Swiss Valley Farms has made exports a priority. That is communicated down the line from the board of directors, to the CEO to the employees. For those reasons and more, it is the 2016 Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year.
To learn more about the Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year Award, click here.
Previous recipients (with links to feature stories about them in Dairy Foods Magazine) are:
California Dairies Inc. (2015)
Dairy Farmers of America (2014)
Leprino Foods (2011)
United Dairymen of Arizona (2010)
Hilmar Cheese (2009)
Schreiber Foods (2008)
Davisco Foods (2006)
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