In 1978, you could count on one hand the number of U.S. dairy companies serving overseas clients commercially. Leprino Foods Co. was one of them.
You could probably count on one finger the U.S. dairy suppliers who were able to maintain those same customers for the next 33 years: Leprino Foods. That statement might be a bit hyperbolic, but the fact remains that very few U.S. dairy suppliers have been as steadfast in their commitment to export markets as Leprino Foods.
For more than three decades, the Denver-based company has been one of the stalwarts of U.S. dairy exports. Its dedication to export market development, integration of an export mindset into its day-in, day-out business and its devotion to forming lasting partnerships through customer service and by going the extra mile earned the company the 2011 Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year award.
The fact that the company is still servicing its first export customer 33 years after the initial sale speaks volumes about commitment and service.
“Leprino Foods epitomizes what we need to have in our industry: committed, customer-service-oriented export suppliers,” says Marc Beck, senior vice president, market development, U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), a co-sponsor of the award with Dairy Foods magazine. “They have been doing it well and doing it for years, and it shows in their export results.”
“The company has been an export champion since day one,” says Tom Suber, president of USDEC, Arlington, Va. “Leprino Foods was a founding member of USDEC in 1995 and has been extremely active in dairy trade policy, both within the organization, leading the Dairy Trade Policy Committee, and outside, participating in industry delegations to World Trade Organization meetings and groups such as USDA’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, where it provided a global perspective.”
In the 1970s, the company recognized the potential of the international market for whey and other dairy ingredients “almost immediately,” says Leprino Foods president Larry Jensen. “Once our first customer relationship was formed, we realized the growth potential, particularly in light of the demand and our access to such a large, healthy dairy industry.”
The company’s exports began what Jensen calls “a nice steady trend of positive gains” for a couple decades and “really took off” in recent years. International sales more than doubled from 2008 to 2010. This year, cheese export volume grew 50% through the first three quarters, compared to the same period in 2010.
A single product to a single country in 1978 — whey to Japan — grew to an array of dairy ingredients and cheese to more than 40 countries worldwide.
In 2000, Leprino Foods became one of only a handful of U.S. dairy suppliers to expand its manufacturing footprint to another continent when it formed a joint venture with Glanbia Plc to serve Europe. The joint venture owns and operates two facilities in the United Kingdom — one in Llangefni, Wales, and one in Magheralin, Northern Ireland — and markets products under the Glanbia Cheese name.