The Wisconsin tour group included: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection folks (organizers of the trip); people who own and operate their own food related businesses; dreamers wanting to get into the business themselves; some food consultants; and a few self- proclaimed "foodies."
It's impossible to imagine how big and complex the food industry actually is. Most of us only see a little corner or two.
Often I hear farmers talk of how production of milk or crops is the most difficult part of the food chain.
I suspect food processors and marketers might disagree.
Certainly the milk that leaves a Wisconsin dairy farm in a bulk milk tanker is unrecognizable when it's part of a frozen pizza that Kraft sells in a supermarket. That milk takes many turns and forms before ending up in the oven of a young couple in Dallas.
The complexity of the food industry is awesome and the challenges fearsome.
George Crave, Waterloo, Wis. was in Chicago representing Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese. The four Crave brothers are milking 600 cows, and two years ago opened their farmstead cheese operation. Crave will admit that having a superior product doesn't alone ensure success, but the Craves will make it. Their cheese is great, their ambition is limitless and they understand the challenges. That's why George Crave was passing out samples to supermarket buyers at a small exhibit in a huge show.
The Buholzer family has owned and operated Klondike Cheese near Monroe for decades. A few years ago, brothers Ron, Dave and Steve, began making their great Odyssey brand Feta cheese. But Ron Buholzer was at the Fancy Food Show for three days marketing his cheese. He knows that fame is fleeting and easily forgotten. And that old customers must be reassured and potential buyers must be convinced.
Jeff Wideman, of Maple Leaf Co-op, Monroe is a regular at this event.
How can the manager of a little dairy cooperative made up of less than two dozen dairy farmers afford to market nationally? How can he afford not to?
Consider: The cheese from that tiny crossroads cheese factory in Green County is sold across the U.S. and the co-op members are paid considerably more for their milk than most farmers. That's why.
Successful companies exhibit at FMI to stay successful. New companies come to test market their new products and services.
Keith Robbins started Bubbies 19 years ago in Aiea, Hawaii. He sells ice cream in an egg-shaped piece that's coated with a soluble rice crust. His market is mail order and to high-end restaurants. It's not cheap, but oh so good!
Robbins admitted that his friends, relatives and experts were not very enthusiastic about his idea. The truth is, great ideas are most always scoffed at, laughed at, and otherwise degraded by family and friends. Developing a new product or business takes unshakable devotion, a lot of fortitude and pure courage.
A few of the Wisconsinites making the trip had the entrepreneurial spirit driving them. Running your own business is one of the most difficult of things to do. Certainly those who used this trip as a learning experience could see the rewards of innovation and it should encourage them.
The "All Things Organic" show was huge and impressive. Just a few years ago organics were the province of tiny co-ops and off-the-beaten path "believers." Now the big marketers are involved or seeking to be.
Organic Valley of LaFarge, a major player in the organic food arena, had a constant line of visitors. Manager and marketing genius George Seimon was there. So was marketing manager Theresa Marquez. They have seen organic food become a major player in the food industry to a point where now all the big marketers are involved.
Food seems simple but its complexity is major. Believe it!