Balancing taste with other factors

The balancing act that is cheesemaking shows up again in the company’s sensory lab, a sort of tasting room. Jill Allen is the company’s quality manager. She and her crew of six sample dairy products from every production run, even those processed in Boardman and those by co-packers and licensed partners. It is Allen who determines what to release for sale and what to return to the warehouse to age for one or two years. She balances the production with sales forecasts for cheeses aged six months and for those aged longer.

Tillamook has a diverse customer base. Allison has five internal sales people and a national network of brokers calling on retail accounts. National grocery accounts include Safeway and Kroger. Tillamook broke into club stores in the 1980s with Costco, based in neighboring Washington. Sam’s Club is also a customer. Dollar stores are a new and important channel.

Foodservice makes up about 8% of Tillamook’s annual sales. Tillamook has two internal sales people and a national network of brokers working in this channel. The company does not want to be just in the restaurant, it wants to be on the menu as well. The co-op’s point of view is that if the restaurant is selling a cheeseburger, then the menu should specify that the Cheddar is from Tillamook.

To build name awareness and brand preference with consumers outside of the Pacific Northwest, Tillamook goes on the road. Just as Oscar Mayer has its wiener-mobile, Tillamook has The Loafster, a 10-foot-long re-conditioned convertible Volkswagen bus painted Cheddar orange. It owns a fleet of five buses (the Loafster and four YUM buses, which are 1960’s-era refurbished VW mini buses). The marketing department deploys the units on so-called Loaf Love tours that visit supermarkets, fairs and restaurants. Now in its third year, the stated aim of this cross-country mobile cheese sampling event is to bring “tasty cheese to the people.”