CMN

August 9, 2019
For a listing of previous Retail Watch stories, please see our Retail Watch Archive.

Whalen Foods specializes in finding customers for ‘mistake’ cheese

CHEESE VARIETY— Whalen Foods helps cheesemakers’ “boo-boos go away” by providing food manufacturers with new outlets for their products, as well as providing buyers with specialty product opportunities. On the dairy side of the business, natural cheese, processed cheese, specialty cheese, dry cheese, butter and whey are all in Whalen Foods’ wheelhouse. The company works with other food products as well.

 

MOVING PRODUCT — Whalen Foods directs the movement of hundreds of truckloads of product each year from this office building in Chaska, Minnesota.

By Kate Sander

CHASKA, Minn. — Mistakes, surplus products, off spec products and outdated products. For cheese manufacturers, these words immediately conjure up problems, hassles and, of course, financial losses.

No one likes them, but in the course of making cheese they are bound to occasionally occur. And when they happen, companies need to have a plan for handling them.

Enter Tom Whalen, Whalen Foods, who has made it his business, as he puts it, to “make your boo-boos go away.”

Whalen may be among the few who actually like mistakes. For the past two decades, he’s made it his company’s business to fix cheese and other food manufacturers’ mistakes — or at least find a way to make the “problem products” less problematic.

Whalen Foods Inc. is a food and marketing company that specializes in edible and inedible products. Its goal is to provide food manufacturers with new outlets for their products, as well as provide buyers with specialty product opportunities. This could be surplus cheese, cheese wheels where the rind didn’t develop correctly, cheese trim, cheese that doesn’t peel from a wrapper correctly or any other number of problems that make the cheese less than ideal for customers with exacting specifications.

In addition to cheese, Whalen Foods also handles other surplus and off-spec products, including chicken nuggets, fish and pet food. About 30% of the company’s business is in the dairy industry. Pet food is the company’s biggest portion of business, amounting to about half of sales, and another 20% is in feed.


“We have years of experience in the industry and many contacts with suppliers and buyers across the country. By utilizing our industry knowledge and contacts, we are able to coordinate and source the products needed for complete industry solutions.”

Tom Whalen
WHALEN FOODS


Whalen Foods, which has five employees based in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin, works behind the scenes to connect buyers and sellers. The company doesn’t store much product because stored product isn’t making anyone any money, Whalen says. Rather, the company has the expertise to move product between buyers and sellers. It’s responsible for moving about 1,000 truckloads of product annually, and works with cold storage businesses across the nation for temporary product storage as needed.

“We have years of experience in the industry and many contacts with suppliers and buyers across the country. By utilizing our industry knowledge and contacts, we are able to coordinate and source the products needed for complete industry solutions,” Whalen says.

Whalen’s entire career has been in trading. After working for other trading companies, he started his own business in 1998 so he could serve customers the way he saw best.

Customer service is extremely important in making the company successful, Whalen says.

“I want to help buyers buy and sellers sell,” he says, noting he and his employees have experience in transportation, procurement and scheduling. By understanding industry needs and effectively communicating, Whalen Foods works to make business easier for its customers.

To that end, the company’s employees strive to completely understand each of its customers’ product needs and applications, assist them in negotiating prices and delivery terms and provide a framework for placing orders and delivery of product. Whalen Foods also is an advocate in resolving any quality and delivery discrepancies that might arise.


“We don’t specialize in just one product type. It allows us to be versatile.”

Tom Whalen
WHALEN FOODS


While dairy is an important part of Whalen Foods’ business, it’s not where the company started. Its first customer was in the catfish bait industry, Whalen says. Then a cheese company reached out to Whalen about marketing cheese fines (small curd particles not recovered in the cheese). Then a fox farm and a mink farm needed feed ingredients. Then another cheesemaker heard about Whalen Foods and asked to work with the company.

“Things just kind of morphed from there,” Whalen says, adding that word-of-mouth gained the company customers and continues to do so.

This diversity in types of customers provides Whalen Foods opportunities to mix and match problems with solutions across a wide range of food types.

“We don’t specialize in just one product type. It allows us to be versatile,” he says.

On the dairy side of the business, natural cheese, processed cheese, specialty cheese, dry cheese, butter and whey are all in Whalen Foods’ wheelhouse. Whalen’s business puts him in touch with some of the largest cheese companies in the United States. It also puts him in touch with a number of other large companies and institutions that one wouldn’t necessarily think of when it comes to dairy, including pet food manufacturers.

It’s an interesting niche market to be in, Whalen says, adding, “We’re a tough company to put a label on.”
Because mistakes aren’t expected, one might think that business wouldn’t be dependable. But the company has built in enough regular business and there is enough unexpected, yet expected, business that the company’s work flow remains fairly steady.


“We represent only the best suppliers in the world. Their dedication to quality and state-of-the-art systems ensures a consistent product that you can depend on.”

Tom Whalen
WHALEN FOODS


“For example every two weeks we move processed cheese to a shredder for a customer,” Whalen says, noting the company is flexible enough to pick up cheese on a spot, weekly or monthly basis. One week the company might move a load of Swiss and the next it might be working on a sale of Colby cheese.

For the rest, “There’s enough niche stuff that it’s consistently inconsistent,” he says.

If a company is trying to move standard 40-pound blocks, there are other trading companies with which to work, Whalen notes. However, for the company that has processed cheese that won’t come out of a wrapper correctly, odds are good that Whalen Foods can find a buyer in a small mom-and-pop retailer or correctional institution. If it’s cheese fines or trim, it’s likely that a pet food manufacturer will want to buy them.

“For pet food manufacturers, we represent several sources in the supply chain, which means they aren’t stuck with one variety,” Whalen says.

Whalen Foods works with companies across the United States as well as in Canada, and also helps customers track product.

Because the company sells product for animal and human use, it will not work with bacteria-infected product or any product that will hurt human or animal health, Whalen says.

In fact, just because the company is dealing with off-grade products doesn’t mean they are poor products.

“We represent only the best suppliers in the world. Their dedication to quality and state-of-the-art systems ensures a consistent product that you can depend on,” he says.

CMN

 

 

CMN article search




© 2019 Cheese Market News • Quarne Publishing, LLC • Legal InformationOnline Privacy PolicyTerms and Conditions
Cheese Market News • Business/Advertising Office: P.O. Box 628254 • Middleton, WI 53562 • 608/831-6002
Cheese Market News • Editorial Office: 5315 Wall Street, Suite 100 • Madison, WI 53718 • 608/288-9090