The Big Cheese

James Dudlicek(847) 205-5660
ext. 4009 jdudlicek@stagnito.com
It was pure coincidence that Dairy Field happened to select mozzarella giant Leprino Foods as its 2004 Processor of the Year at about the same time its president, Wes Allen, was retiring after nearly four decades with the company.
During that time, Allen has seen the company come a long way, and naturally is well versed on its evolution (perhaps second only to chairman Jim Leprino, son of the founder).
While much of the progress is quite visible — from handmade cheese in the back of a grocery store to 11 manufacturing plants here and abroad — there is a deep human element to the company that perhaps only Leprino’s managers and its closest customers truly understand. It’s this investment in people — caring about what people want and what people can do — that helps make Leprino one of the greatest innovators in the industry.
“We look at opportunities that present challenges, and we’ve enjoyed taking those challenges on,” Allen told me during a recent roundtable of senior management at Leprino’s Denver headquarters.
“One of the things I’ve observed that really makes me feel good, and is developing more and more each year, is our research people work with the research people of our customers. We can be on the forefront of new developments and have the products we need to have for our customers to be successful substantially faster. ... Once you get that type of relationship established, and the successes that result as a part of that relationship, you really have something extremely strong that makes us happy, because we’re on top of our game, and our customers happy, because we’re able to get results for them so quickly. I see that growing every year. ... It really has been a pleasure to see it grow and the confidence level the customer’s research people have in our company and our research people. It’s a dynamic that’s extremely strong.”
As I spent time with the folks at Leprino, it seemed as though they were as interested — or more so — in nurturing their people as in making and selling more cheese. But to hear them tell it, you can’t have one without the other.
And it’s obvious Leprino continues to expect great things from its people. Its factories are built to absorb growing production needs, its headquarters open with floor space to accommodate future administrative needs of the flourishing company. Its research people continue to push the limits of what cheese and whey can provide its customers, who must serve a dynamic base of consumers with diverse nutritional and culinary wants and needs.
That is where real growth potential lies for the dairy industry. Sure, pizza continues to be one of America’s favorite foods, and Leprino makes the cheese that covers a great many of them. But as Americans struggle with reducing their caloric intake, Leprino is going to be on the cutting edge of making calories mean more.
So when the next big thing comes out of Leprino Foods that turns the dairy industry on its ear, you can be sure that the company’s managers will stand a bit to the side so their team can get most of the applause. Knowing you’ll get that kind of support from the top down goes a long way.
“My observation is that people who are passionate — people who really care — are happy people,” Allen said. “We get a lot of comments from visitors to our factories and offices about how many people are out there smiling and are friendly. That’s reflected in our passion.”  
I’d like to repeat my call for historic photos and information to include in our upcoming 100th anniversary issue. We’d like to juxtapose old and new, tradition and innovation, in tracing DF’s history parallel to that of the industry it covers so passionately.
It would be great to get everything rounded up before the December holidays, so please call or e-mail.