What began as a consulting firm to provide marketing support for small to medium-sized specialty food suppliers more than 35 years ago, has grown - through strategic acquisitions - to become the United States’ largest importer, marketer and manufacturer of specialty cheeses and other prepared foods.
Today, Richfield, Wis.-based DCI Cheese Co. is the leading provider of specialty cheese to America’s Top 20 retailers, says Dominique Delugeau, senior vice president of sales, and “dominates the category with a unique collaboration of global reach and personalized customer attention.”
In February, cheese giant Saputo Inc. said it was acquiring DCI parent company Fairmount Cheese Holdings for $270.5 million. The Montreal-based company said its acquisition will complement the activities of its United States dairy products division and increase its presence in the specialty cheese category.
DCI’s products (both branded and private label) can be found in grocery and club stores as well as specialty shops and restaurants.
“The cheese industry has a fairly small group of power players,” Delugeau adds. “We differentiate ourselves with our unique business model, which has evolved to comprise a portfolio of leading company-owned brands, dedicated supplier partnerships and consolidation capabilities that enable us to offer full-service specialty cheese programs custom-tailored to meet each customer’s needs. We optimize our global reach and leverage our knowledge, expertise and innovation to serve as our customers’ one-stop-shop specialty cheese supplier and marketer.”
Rapid growth through acquisitions in the 1990s (see “History”) necessitated “a series of technological upgrades that needed to occur flawlessly to ensure our customers didn’t experience our growing pains,” explains Kristy Klug, marketing communications specialist. “E-mail, order entry and several other essential systems were consolidated under single, uniform structures, allowing DCI to seamlessly integrate five companies into one.” Dedicated to remaining on top of IT trends, Klug says additional technological improvements are planned this year.
Along with its Richfield headquarters, the 450-employee company maintains four other locations: a distribution center in Appleton, Wis.; a conversion facility in Green Bay, Wis. (see related article on page 78); an importing/distribution center in Carlstadt, N.J.; and a specialty food manufacturing facility for hummus, dips and spreads in Santa Rosa, Calif.
With product safety a forefront issue in the cheese industry as well as at the company, DCI’s president Tim Omer says they have invested heavily in the facilities to ensure customers are provided with the safest products possible. In 2010, they achieved their goal of company-wide Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification at all production facilities.
“We take food safety and quality assurance very seriously and have invested heavily in our facilities to ensure we’re providing our customers the safest product possible,” adds Omer. “Very few manufacturers pass GFSI’s initial audit. We’re proud to say that our production facilities passed with flying colors, achieving ‘A’ rankings - the best you can get.”
New products and innovationSalemville and Black Diamond may be the company’s best-known brands, but DCI offers almost 3,000 SKUs. With fluid and responsive procurement and supply chain teams, the company is able to respond quickly to clients’ demands and category trends. For the 2010 holiday season, DCI rolled out Roquefort Templiers for Sam’s Club. Aged in the Société Roquefort Caves, this was the first time the milk-white cheese with emerald green veins was available in the United States.
Earlier in the year when DCI re-launched Liederkranz (it had been out of production since 1985), the company relied on its relationship with Myron Olson of Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe, Wis., to produce the American replication of Germany’s Limburger. It is currently DCI’s top-selling product in its online store.
New packaging for several products in the company’s Il Giardino line as well as for the Mario Batali cheese blends debuted this past summer. The 5-ounce rounded square-shape package has three flat panels that allow for more product visibility and more contemporary label designs. Made of FDA-approved recyclable plastic resins, the new containers include a tamper-resistant inner heat seal film to ensure freshness.
“We were so excited by the distinctive labeling capabilities and product visibility the ‘squa-round’ cup offers,” says Delugeau, “we invested in a custom line at our packaging facility in Green Bay.”
While details aren’t yet available, Klug says there are “several major product launches” planned for this year as well as a re-launch of DCI’s Great Midwest brand.
“Consumers have become better educated and more passionate about the food they eat,” explains Klug of the impetus behind the changes to the Great Midwest line. “They’re also becoming a lot more adventurous in their kitchens. Because of this, they’re seeking bolder flavors as well as a more intimate knowledge of where their products are produced.”
A line of flavor-infused Monterey Jacks will expand in April to include new varieties of flavored jacks and “cutting-edge flavored Cheddars.” The artisanal products, produced by award-winning Wisconsin cheesemakers, are being developed to specifically hit the flavor profiles that today’s customers seek, adds Klug.
Social and mobile marketingTo promote its award-winning portfolio, DCI implements a variety of promotional methods, including use of social media tools as well as mobile marketing.
“Social media has connected us more directly to our customers and has given us a great outlet to provide recipes and serving suggestions, cheese descriptions, links to our other social media posts and, in general, a welcoming environment to talk cheese,” Klug explains. “We’ve found that consumers appreciate having another way to reach out to us on their terms, and we’re happy to accommodate them.”
In addition to its blog, The Cheese Post (thecheesepost.com), which features all of the company’s major brands, DCI has a YouTube channel and several branded Facebook pages. The video-sharing site includes clips on Liederkranz, Organic Creamery, Nikos and an instructional video showing how to cut a 25-pound ball-shaped Mario Batali Mandarini Provolone. On Facebook, fans can find a company page plus those for Black Diamond, Liederkranz, Nikos, Organic Creamery and Salemville.
Just last year, DCI Cheese began utilizing QR (quick response) codes on in-store signage. Shoppers with smart phones are able to take a photo of the code and are then redirected to a corresponding product or promotion website where they’ll find beverage pairings, serving suggestions, recipes, coupons and more.
In addition to its marketing efforts, the company also believes in corporate citizenship. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, DCI made a donation of $45,000 to the American Red Cross (representing $100 in honor of each of the company’s 450 employees). “The company’s employees were so inspired by the donation they contributed an additional $1,425 of their own money without being asked,” Omer explains.
Although the company is privately held and doesn’t share sales data, according to BizTimes Milwaukee, which awarded Omer with a Bravo! Entrepreneur Award in 2010, it has averaged 20% compound growth during the last 15 years.
Poised to continue its expansion, Omer says, “DCI is actively seeking continued vertical integration and synergistic acquisitions to enhance our positioning as the leading solution-based provider in the industry. Thanks to DCI’s ingenuity, single-source positioning and first-to-market speed, we are primed for long-term growth.”
HistoryDCI Cheese Co.’s transition from brand-building consulting firm to customer-focused supplier of premium company-owned or exclusively held brands began in the early 1990s. Its first company-owned brand, Salemville Cheese, debuted in 1991 when the company was still known as Dan Carter Inc. (the name was changed in 2003) and headquartered in Mayville, Wis. A year later, the company obtained U.S. agent status for the Black Diamond brand. Of DCI’s entire portfolio, the two brands have the highest consumer recognition and are perennial award winners.
The company established its first dedicated supplier/manufacturing partnership with Carter/Meister LLC in 1997. During the following years, DCI continued to grow its portfolio with the addition of such brands as Great Midwest, Organic Creamery and many others. Fairmount Food Group, LLC and its equity sponsor, GTCR Golder Rauner, LLC acquired DCI Cheese Co. in 2005. That same year, to accommodate its growing team, the company moved its headquarters to Richfield, Wis. Since 2006, DCI has continued to grow with strategic acquisitions and partnerships, including Swissrose, Advantage International, Green Bay Cheese and G&G.
Inside The DCI Cheese Trophy CaseFive DCI Cheese Co. products were honored at the 2010 American Cheese Society’s annual cheese competition in Seattle:
• Black Diamond Chardonnay & Extra Sharp Cheddar Cold Pack Cheese Food (third place, Cheese Spreads: Cold Pack Cheese Food and Cheese Spreads with Flavor Added - Spices, Herbs, Seasonings, Fruits - All Milks)
• Black Diamond Extra Sharp Cheddar Cold Pack Cheese Food (first place, Open Category Made from Cow’s Milk)
• Great Midwest Morel & Leek Jack (second place, Flavored Cheeses: Flavor Added Monterey Jack - Made from Cow’s Milk)
• Liederkranz (third place, American Originals: Liederkranz)
• Salemville Smokehaus Blue (third place, Smoked Cheeses: Open Category Made from Cow’s Milk)
At the 2010 World Cheese Awards in the United Kingdom, Black River Gorgonzola and El Cortijo Murcia al Vino received Bronze awards.
A Quick Scan of PromotionsDCI Cheese Co. has used quick response codes with the King’s Choice, Il Giardino, Black Diamond and Joan of Arc brands. Currently shoppers can obtain promotional materials, wine pairings and coupons for Joan of Arc cheese when they photograph a QR code on in-store promotional materials or by visiting the Joan of Arc website.
On Feb. 1, Joan of Arc launched the “Give Yourself the Royal Treatment” promotion, which runs to March 31. Shoppers enter online to win the grand prize of free maid services for one year (delivered as a $2,000 Visa gift card).
The promotion is intended to make high-quality cheeses “much more approachable to the average consumer,” says Katie Jury, marketing manager. “Brie is such a great cheese, but Americans tend to view it as a food meant for special occasions.”
Jury said the company hopes shoppers “treat themselves like royalty by consuming Joan of Arc’s authentic French cheeses with greater frequency.”