Ahead of the Pack
by James Dudlicek
Perennial leaders continue to lead our Top 100 ranking.
Dean — it’s called that for good reason.    Sure, there’s the brand equity that dates back to founder Samuel Dean in 1925. The name’s strength is why it lived on beyond the merger with Suiza Foods in 2001.
But as its growth and success has demonstrated, the name just fits — Dean Foods Co. truly is the dean of dairy processing.
The Dallas-based giant — no surprise here — once again leads our annual Top 100 ranking of dairy processors, finally having topped $10 billion in sales. Dean continues to expand its market share not only among its traditional offerings, but in the rapidly expanding organic dairy market through its Horizon Organic brand, for which demand is outpacing supply.
A snapshot of how the year is going so far: Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregg Engles announced first quarter 2006 overall sales that totaled $2.6 billion, up a percent over a year earlier, credited to strong sales in the Dairy Group and WhiteWave Foods, home of the Horizon and Silk soymilk brands.
Engles further trumpeted fluid milk volumes outpacing the industry as a whole, up by 3.4 percent. Dairy Group net sales increased $12 million to $2.2 billion in the first quarter.
“Although rising fuel prices are a concern, volume trends are strong in the Dairy Group and dairy commodity prices are trending favorably,” Engles said in a statement last month, noting other challenges lay ahead. “Balancing the benefits of a favorable dairy commodity environment against increased commodity costs throughout much of our WhiteWave Foods business, we are leaving our full-year guidance unchanged, with expectations for $2.10 to $2.15 earnings per share.”
The rest of our top 10 features the same names as in recent years, with some minor shifting. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream and Leprino Foods swapped positions at eighth and ninth places; the two are in a virtual tie, based on our estimates made necessary by the companies’ sales reporting policies. HP Hood continues to hold the No. 7 spot as a confirmed member of the top 10 since its acquisition of Kemps and Crowley Foods.
Other movements of note: CoolBrands International slipped to 40th from 29th after experiencing some financial difficulties since losing its brand-licensing agreement with Weight Watchers; the company reports a positive consumer response to its newly launched Breyers yogurt products in the second quarter of this year, and has other licensing partnerships up its sleeve.
Winn-Dixie fell to 48th from 28th as the grocer continues to divest itself of its manufacturing operations. Giant Food is pursuing the same course, though only slipped a notch after selling one of its plants to the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative.
Meanwhile, Prairie Farms is up to 12th place and is likely to rise even higher after acquiring Turner Holdings (54). Yoplait-Colombo USA, Dairy Field’s 2005 Processor of the Year, rose one place to 19th as this division of giant General Mills continues to experience double-digit growth as the leader in a yogurt segment that keeps gaining altitude. And Wells’ Dairy, while holding its spot at No. 23, is getting ever closer to the $1 billion mark.
Newcomers to this year’s list both hail from Wisconsin: Italian cheesemaker BelGioioso (72) and Ellsworth Co-op Creamery (82). They replace former longtime Top 100 member Yarnell Ice Cream — just edged out at No. 101 — and Sartori Food Corp., which joined the ranking last year.
Most of the information upon which we based the ranking was provided by the processors themselves. Information for companies that chose not to reveal sales information or otherwise participate was found at Hoover’s Online or estimated based on annual reports and other industry sources. Rankings are based on sales of finished dairy products.
If your company isn’t on the list and you’d like to be considered for next year’s ranking, please contact us at (847) 405-4009 or jdudlicek@stagnito.com.
In the meantime, take a look at who leads the pack in 2006, along with the outlook for our industry from some of dairy’s top leaders.