The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) recognized the remarkable leadership of Ed Mullins, senior executive officer of Edwardsville, Ill.-based Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., and Dan Zagzebski, president and CEO of Hiram, Ohio-headquartered Great Lakes Cheese Company Inc., by honoring each with the IDFA Laureate Award during the association’s annual Dairy Forum. Now in its third year, the IDFA Laureate Award is given to a leader in the dairy industry who has made significant, prolonged contributions to the development and growth of dairy, IDFA said. Candidates from across the dairy industry, as well as suppliers and academics are eligible, and the awardee(s) is chosen by a panel of industry professionals.

Mullins began his career with Prairie Farms in 1980 and rose to become the cooperative’s CEO and executive vice president before stepping into his current role as senior executive officer earlier this year, IDFA said. Mullins was only the fourth chief executive in the 80-year history of the farmer-owned dairy cooperative.

Before his appointment to the CEO position in 2006, Mullins served in various key executive management positions within the company. He sits on several industry-related boards, including IDFA, IICA, MilkPEP, Milk Industry Foundation and Missouri Grocers Association, IDFA said. In July 2018, Mullins was inducted into the Missouri Grocers Association Hall of Fame. In 2014, he received the IDFA Soaring Eagle Award for his extraordinary leadership in the dairy industry.

“Ed is someone who has defined the dairy industry for several generations,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based IDFA. “He is deeply respected by colleagues and peers. He has a deep faith and commitment to his family. He has taken Prairie Farms from a regional player to a national brand through his dedication to product innovation and building relationships for the farmer owners. IDFA is so pleased to present Ed with our organization’s highest honor, the IDFA Laureate Award.”

Mullins called the recognition an honor and humbling.

“I have truly been blessed and fortunate to work with so many great people in the dairy industry and have the support of Prairie Farms producers and employees,” he said.

Zagzebski has been with Great Lakes Cheese for 15 years and served as president and CEO since 2015. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience, IDFA said. His focus on infrastructure and innovation has enabled the company to be a leader in cheese packaging and manufacturing in the United States.

Prior to his current role as president and CEO, Zagzebski held various positions of increasing responsibility, including chief operations officer and vice president of sales and product development. Zagzebski joined the company when Great Lakes Cheese purchased Lemke Cheese and Packaging in Wausau, Wis., where he was co-owner and CEO, IDFA said.

“Dan has brought smart growth, a commitment to innovation and a mindset of giving back to his employees and communities wherever Great Lakes Cheese is located,” said Dykes. “He is an exemplary leader who has made a lasting impact not only for Great Lakes Cheese, but for the dairy industry more broadly.

“As chair of the IDFA Executive Council, Dan oversaw the transformation of IDFA’s governance model and transition to a more inclusive organization representing the entire dairy supply chain,” he continued. “I’m pleased to present Dan with the IDFA Laureate Award in recognition of his many contributions to the growth of the dairy industry.”

Zagzebski said he shares the award with his Great Lakes Cheese family and owners, the Epprecht Family.

“Thank you to everyone involved in the dairy industry for creating a unified community where all of us can feel a part of something bigger than ourselves,” he said.

Previous recipients of the IDFA Laureate Award are Sue Taylor, vice president of dairy economics and policy for Leprino Foods Co. (2021), and Andrei Mikhalevsky, former president and CEO of California Dairies Inc. (2020).