The U.S. operation of the European dairy cooperative Arla is growing its sliced, snack and cream cheese businesses. Donald J. Stohrer Jr., president of Arla USA, told Dairy Foods that sales in the natural cheese slices segment are up 209% in the latest Nielsen report.

Listen to the All Things Dairy podcast with Arla USA President Donald J. Stohrer Jr.

Arla makes Havarti, Gouda, Muenster and fontina cheeses in Wisconsin. (See Dairy Foods, March 2017). The cream cheese (made in Denmark) is the No. 5 cream cheese brand in the United States, Stohrer said. By early 2018, Arla will sell Cheddar cheese made by Dairy Farmers of America.

Arla USA ranks No. 86 on the Dairy Foods Dairy 100 list of largest dairy processors with 2016 sales of $191.5 million.

In 2015, Arla rolled out its products in the grocery and mass channels. After slowly building sales last year, this year the company ramped up the organization and quadrupled the size of the sales force, Stohrer said.  Distribution has tripled since 2015 and today Arla has placement in more than 6,000 stores. Cheeses are distributed nationwide in the mass market channel by Sam’s Club and Costco. Kroger and Publix are two supermarket chains carrying the Arla brand, along with a “who’s who of regionals,” Stohrer said.

Arla forms a joint venture with Dairy Farmers of America

The joint venture with DFA will put Arla in the Cheddar cheese category, the best-selling cheese type at retail. DFA is building a plant in western New York and Arla will sell the output.

Earlier this year, Arla was forced to pull advertising that showed a child portraying the artificial growth hormone rBST as a monster. Eli Lilly and Co. and Elanco US Inc. complained that the cheesemaker and its “Live Unprocessed” ad campaign made false and misleading claims about recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). In June, the U.S. District Court in Green Bay, Wis., granted the pharmaceutical companies’ request for a nationwide preliminary injunction. Stohrer said he could not comment on the pending litigation.

He did say a new advertising and marketing program in September will focus on the dairy cooperative’s commitment to making cheese with few and simple ingredients. The message will also dwell on the co-op’s traditions.

Speaking of clean label and sustainable farming practices, Stohrer said, “We’ve always done it this way before it was hip.”