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Convenience, variety of pizza a bright spot for cheese sales

June 18, 2021

Editor’s note: Cheese is the undeniable powerhouse behind a good pizza, with different varieties, flavors and blends either layered in the pie, spread on top, stuffed in the crust and everything in between. Cheese Market News is pleased to be publishing a two-part series on the pizza industry, a key partner to the cheese business for sales, innovation and demand. Enjoy Part 1 today, and Part 2 will publish Aug. 13 in conjunction with the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Aug. 17-19. Bon Appetit!

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — Despite the challenges cheese and other food industry stakeholders have faced over the past year with shifting supply and demand fundamentals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a boom in pizza delivery and carry-out has been a steadfast, positive outlet for cheese demand and sales.

In a year when restaurants across the country have struggled to stay afloat, those that have included pizza on their menus generally have fared better. Sales of pizza over the past year increased as much as 4%, according to Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm.

“Pizza remains one of the most popular and craveable foods in the foodservice landscape. The continued emphasis on takeout and delivery, technological innovation and large, shareable portions have made pizza a convenient and reliable choice, especially for off-premise occasions and groups,” Technomic says. “To stand out in the increasingly crowded category, effective branding that allows concepts to be set apart from the others will be key.”

Meanwhile, data from The NPD Group’s CREST foodservice market research shows that total food servings through pizza/Italian quick serve restaurants (QSR) (including fast casual) grew by 2.5% for the year ending 2020 versus 2019, according to Dairy Management Inc. QSR pizza/Italian restaurants that were well-positioned for takeout and delivery were a popular option for feeding the family in the midst of COVID-19, the data shows. In contrast, food servings through total commercial foodservice were down 11.9% and down 3.4% for QSR for the year ending 2020.

“As demand for food delivery increased during the pandemic, there was an increase in demand for delivered pizza from Domino’s,” says Art D’Elia, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Domino’s Pizza. “We benefited from having great technology, great food coupled with excellent value and reliable delivery. We continued to see customers rely on technology and delivery from Domino’s into the first quarter of 2021.”

Kendall Richmond, CFO at Toppers Pizza, says the company also saw a significant increase in delivery orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So far, as we’ve seen vaccinations increase and restrictions decrease, we haven’t seen a major decrease in this trend,” Richmond says.

While even pizza operators weren’t immune from some of the headaches experienced last year with supply/demand shifts in foodservice, Richmond notes cheese probably is the one commodity that has not been affected from a supply/demand perspective for Toppers.

“We have an excellent partner on the cheese supplier side,” Richmond says, noting that while extreme volatility seen in the cheese market last spring had a slight impact on the company, Toppers contracts out its cheese 60-120 days out, “so we missed the lowest points but also didn’t see the high prices either. Also, it was a pretty short-lived spike of about 60 days.”

D’Elia says Domino’s has decades of experience in the ups and downs of cheese prices.

“It’s something we know how to manage together with our suppliers,” he says. “Customers love cheese on pizzas, in bread and on sandwiches — we continue to see customers choose many of the great cheese options we provide on our menu.”

In addition to the pandemic leading to a boost in takeout and delivery, a recent surge in demand for Detroit-style pizza also is lending support to pizza and cheese sales, notes Bob Starkey, vice president of business development for Winona Foods.

The style has become so popular that even national chain Pizza Hut in January added the pizza to its menu for a limited time to coincide with the Super Bowl and National Pizza Day Feb. 9.

Brick cheese is considered one of the things that makes the pizza Detroit-style pizza so popular, Starkey says, noting Brick cheese sales have been a great growth area for Winona Foods.

Detroit-style pizza traditionally is rectangular-shaped, features cheese all the way to the edges to create a crispy, thick, caramelized crust, is loaded with toppings and finished off with tomato sauce on top to keep the crust light and airy.

Starkey notes Brick cheese typically comes in a block form, but Winona Foods has seen a surge in demand for pre-shredded, grated and shaved cheese varieties as foodservice operators this past year have had to cut down on available staff to repurpose blocks of cheese in-house.

“Customers want the same material but just as a fully finished product,” he says. “Not as many companies have the people to shred for them, etc. The spend per se of having a fully finished good is more attractive to those operators when it comes to keeping up with demand.”

He adds that with other traditional pizza cheeses like Mozzarella being a fresh cheese, by pre-shredding and sealing in a bag, Winona Foods is helping to extend the shelf life for its customers.

“If we put it into the bag, it extends the shelf life and gives the operator more flexibility on their end,” Starkey says. “Our process of redistribution helps our customers turn product more often.”

As the world starts to return to a new normal and consumers return to more in-person dining, pizza industry stakeholders still expect demand to be robust.

“It’s hard to tell where customers are going to shift in the months to come, as more restaurants open back up in many ways,” D’Elia says, “but the industry needs to remain nimble and ready to serve an evolving customer base.”

Richmond says that absent of any additional government involvement like last summer’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Toppers doesn’t anticipate any major shifts in demand.

“Cheese pizza has always been a customer favorite, and we believe it will remain that way for as long as we’re selling pizza,” he says.

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Pizza, cheesemakers look at widening plant-based options

June 18, 2021

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — As consumers incorporate more plant-based food in their diets and more substitutes become available on the market, one thing remains the constant: they still want to have their pizza. And due to new product and menu innovations from cheese companies and restaurants, those looking for plant-based alternatives can still eat it, too.

“The demand, especially for pizza applications, really has exploded from the plant-based standpoint. Everyone is now acutely aware that plant-based is growing, whether it’s flexitarians trying to eat a little less animal products, or climatarians trying to decrease their carbon footprint through what they eat,” says Keith Schuman, business unit lead for Schuman Cheese’s plant-based brand, Vevan. “We’ve seen an amazing number of inquiries on plant-based cheeses across the board — from large chains to small independents and mom-and-pop shops — we’ve seen it from everywhere. It comes back to people trying to reduce animal products, but they don’t want to give up their creature comforts. No one wants to give up pizza.”

Dallas-based Pie Five Pizza, which operates fast-casual pizza restaurants in several states, first added vegan cheese to its menu in early 2016. It uses Daiya brand Mozzarella-flavored shreds, which can be paired with its vegan gluten-free and thin crusts, most of its sauce offerings and now with Impossible meatballs for a fully plant-based pizza.

“All of our decisions at Pie Five are research-based,” says Pie Five Brand Manager Adam Schmidt of demand for plant-based options. “A 2019 Generation IF report shows that 60% of U.S. customers are trying to cut back on animal-based products, and more than half of the U.S. Gen Z population consumes plant-based meat at least once a month. A study by NPD Group from 2019 also shows that plant-based is mainstream now, with 95% of consumers who consider plant-based proteins regularly eat animal-derived foods.”

• More on the menu

Last month, Pie Five announced the launch of its new Impossible Tuscan Pizza, which includes Pie Five’s house-made thin crust topped with Tuscan marinara sauce, Impossible Tuscan meatballs, Ricotta and house-grated Mozzarella. The pizza is finished with grape tomatoes, fresh arugula and a light lemon dressing.

“This delicious pizza can be made vegan by choosing either a gluten-free or thin crust, and substituting vegan cheese for the Mozzarella and Ricotta,” Schmidt says. “Our Impossible Tuscan Pizza and its meatballs are the latest additions to Pie Five’s menu that allow our guests to make conscious food choices that align with their individual tastes and dietary needs.”

Additionally, due to the popularity of its Impossible meatballs, Pie Five has replaced its original meatball recipe with this new plant-based product and sees its partnership with Impossible Foods opening up further opportunities for new menu offerings.

Specialty pizzas with non-traditional toppings and cheeses have become popular menu options, and plant-based versions of these are now possible as companies offer flavors beyond the traditional Mozzarella.
Whitehall Specialties’ NewFields division offers several varieties of plant-based cheese flavors that can be used as pizza toppings in both traditional and artisan applications.

“Obviously our Mozzarella is by far and away No. 1 in popularity for pizza,” says Steve Snyder, president and CEO, Whitehall Specialties. “Parmesan is one that we’re particularly proud of. We have a fantastic Parmesan product that we do in both grated and a fine shred.”

Additionally, NewFields offers a crumbled Blue product that offers unique possibilities for plant-based pizza options.

“I think this is really interesting, because the variety of flavors in plant-based has been less than that in traditional cheeses,” Snyder says. “(Our Blue crumble) offers a unique opportunity to add flavor intensity to artisan pizzas as it acts like an overall flavor potentiator, including the addition of umami notes. A lot of those artisan pizzas use heavily vegan or vegetarian-type products, so we see a great bridge to connect higher-end gourmet, artisan pizza with our range of flavors.”

• Function and flavor

While plant-based alternatives have improved over the years in flavor and functionality, some challenges remain.

“We still as an industry have challenges around the stretch and chew of Mozzarella. That 18-inch stretch you get from traditional Mozzarella, we’re not there yet. But we have a much enhanced stretch and chew than even a few years ago,” Snyder says of plant-based products. “Browning is another area of challenge. Real pizza cheese has a Maillard reaction — the chemical reaction that happens between amino acids and simple sugars when you heat up a dairy product and cause browning.”

On the plus side, Snyder notes that the melt has become much better, as has taste and flavor.

“Flavor has been optimized to be really tasty in these applications,” he says. “Depending on how you apply it in pizza — whether frozen or done fresh — melt is obviously a critical parameter to control, and we’ve gotten better at that.”

Snyder adds that these are areas where he sees potential for even more improvement and tailoring to specific needs for pizza customers in the future. For example, he says there will be plant-based products to bake at high-melt, low melt or no melt depending on the application.

“You might have the same flavor and product, but formulated to work differently for an application. For foodservice, that’s a big deal — the melt, but also freeze and thaw, specifications for microwave and bake applications,” Snyder says. “That’s a very technical formulation challenge to get the same behavior over many different conditions, and that’s a huge area, particularly related to pizza.”

Schuman notes that it has been an asset for Vevan to have a team that already understands cheese inside and out to replicate its flavor, form and functionality.

“Our plant-based cheese melts great, just like traditional dairy cheese on a pizza application, including browning and bubbling,” Schuman says. “The important thing is mouthfeel. Mozzarella has a spring to it, and traditionally with plant-based cheese, it turns a little gooey. We wanted to hone in on that, and with our cheesemaking team, we’ve been able to replicate that quite well.”

He notes stretch also tends to be difficult, but Vevan continues to work on this challenge as well.

“From a visual aspect, consumers want to see that big long string hold, which is attributed to long-chain protein in Mozzarella,” he explains. “The protein in plant-based cheese is short chains and largely inactive, a nutritional rather than a functional protein. Getting that kind of stretch with what’s on the market today is nearly impossible, but we’re actively working on it. The science is getting close, and we think we’ll be able to produce a product that can stretch like traditional cheese.”

Schuman says Vevan constantly is trying to bridge the gap between plant-based and traditional dairy, not only in function and flavor, but also nutrition. In its most recent reformulation, Vevan in March introduced probiotics and live cultures to its products.

“All the great benefits of traditional dairy, we’re trying to replicate that so people who have chosen to eat a plant-based diet can feel good about it,” he says. “We’re almost spot on for flavor, and replicating the stringiness, pull, texture and versatility of cheese is not far behind!”

Among customers, Snyder says he sees demand for plant-based cheeses taking off in retail and among chefs, which is setting the tone for a reemerging foodservice industry.

“Right now we’re seeing the artisan leaders step out to show it’s possible to make great-tasting, plant-based products,” he says. “What typically happens next is foodservice catches on for larger-scale and less expensive or high-volume type mainstream applications. Whether institutional or fast-casual chains, which are more cost conscious but still bring artisan flavor into a restaurant, it is an evolution. There will be a day when we will have vegan pizza at a ballgame, and it will be a version of what only the high-end restaurants are serving today.”

CMN


U.S. reaches agreements with EU, UK on large aircraft dispute

June 18, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) this week announced the United States has reached agreements with both the European Union (EU) and United Kingdom (UK) on a cooperative framework to address the large civil aircraft disputes.

USTR says the agreement with the EU moves away from past confrontation in pursuit of a cooperative future by suspending the tariffs related to this dispute for five years. The United States and EU also agreed to clear principles, including:

• The two sides will establish a working group on large civil aircraft, to be led by each side’s respective minister responsible for trade. The trade ministers will consult at least yearly. The working group will meet on request or at least every six months.

• The working group will seek to analyze and overcome any disagreements that may arise between the sides. The working group will collaborate on and continue discussing and developing these principles and appropriate actions.

• Each side intends to provide any financing for the production or development of large civil aircraft on market terms.

• Each side intends to provide any funding for research and development (R&D) for large civil aircraft through an open and transparent process and intends to make the results of fully-government-funded R&D widely available to the extent permitted by law. Each side intends not to provide R&D funding or other support that is specific in a way that would cause negative effects to the other side.

• Each side intends to collaborate on jointly analyzing and addressing non-market practices of third parties that may harm their respective large civil aircraft industries.

• Each side intends to suspend application of its countermeasures for a period of five years in the expectation that the other side will contribute to establishing a level playing field and to addressing shared challenges from non-market economies.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., and Subcommittee Chair Jim Costa, D-Calif., thanked the administration for their work in reaching this agreement with the EU.

“This deal not only resolves a long-running dispute, but also benefits American farmers, ranchers and other food and agriculture industry stakeholders who were harmed by the retaliatory tariffs from this dispute, at a time in which they are working hard to recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Scott says.

“While there is more work to do to address persistent agricultural trade barriers, I am pleased to see that U.S. farmers and ranchers will not be burdened from retaliatory tariffs as a result of this deal,” Costa adds.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) says this agreement can help normalize trade in sectors that have been harmed by retaliatory tariffs, although more work remains to get U.S.-EU trade relations on the right path.

“The U.S. needs a holistic approach to Europe’s continued attempts to disrupt international trade so that our exporters have a dependable and more reasonable playing field on which to compete,” says Krysta Harden, USDEC president and CEO.

The Cheese Importers Association of America (CIAA) notes that the retaliatory tariffs in the dispute authorized by the World Trade Organization affected a total value of $11.5 billion of trade, and these tariffs have resulted in EU and U.S. businesses paying more than $3.3 billion in duties.

The announcement comes on the heels of the CIAA and European Dairy Association recently sending a joint letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and EU Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovkis regarding the dispute and urging a swift resolution.

USTR also announced a similar understanding was reached this week with the UK, which previously was part of the European Union during much of the civil aircraft disputes. The United States and UK agreed not to impose tariffs related to this dispute for five years, and USTR says it will not enforce tariffs so long as it is satisfied that U.S. workers and producers can compete fairly.

CMN



Gilman Cheese eyes new innovation, growth while retaining human touch

GILMAN, Wis. — Gilman Cheese, a manufacturer of clean label, shelf-stable processed cheese, is looking at 2021 as a year of stabilization as the company continues to grow. Having doubled its workforce this last year, the company also is investing in its people as well as reaching out to existing and potential customers with a larger sales and marketing presence.

“This year is about stabilization for us. We’re going to implement processes and policies to make sure we’ll improve on-time, in-full delivery, improve cost structure and improve our cheese procurement. Ensuring the engagement of our employees also is a big one,” says Gilman Cheese CFO Dave Schafer. “If we deliver there, profitability and revenue will follow suit. We’re taking the approach that if we improve internally, this will drive our revenue and margin improvement.”

The company’s former owner, Tom Hand, transformed the company from a natural cheese plant to a national supplier of clean label processed cheese, supplying customers from retail snack and gift basket distributors to airlines and foodservice. Borgman Capital acquired Gilman Cheese in March 2019, and Schafer began his tenure as CFO in January 2020. Hand remains active on the company’s board of directors.

“In 2020, with everything that happened, we had to essentially redefine who we were and what we were doing,” Schafer says of leading the company through the pandemic. “Our traditional top 10 customers were likely going to be significantly lower in terms of volume and revenue. We also began growing rapidly in 2020 — top line revenue grew 56%.”

A second shift was added last spring, and Gilman’s workforce doubled from 130 to 260 people. From 2019 to 2020, the company increased from processing 18 million pounds to 27 million pounds of cheese annually, and this year the forecast is between 34-36 million pounds.

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Industry updates guidances, urges vaccination for safety

June 11, 2021

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — As vaccinations roll out nationwide and COVID-19 cases drop, the dairy industry continues to provide updated guidances, resources and support to help keep employees at farms, factories and offices safe.

Dairy processors across the country are taking various approaches, often depending on local restrictions that are in place, according to Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

“For example, Michigan is one of the last places to change anything with mask mandates, while the South has been much more open. Companies are all over the map when we’ve talked to them,” Dykes says. “One of the biggest incentives for folks to take the vaccine is the option to not wear a mask. Some places are allowing workers to not wear a mask if they have completed their vaccine in the last two weeks. Some are keeping track, and some use the honor system. Some are saying that effective a certain date, masks won’t be mandated.”

IDFA’s HR Leaders in Dairy group — part of the association’s People Strategy that brings together knowledge from across its membership — has been especially helpful in sharing experiences about strategies and what’s worked across different companies, Dykes says.

“The sharing across IDFA members and human resource leaders has been phenomenal,” Dykes says. “Their willingness to share in meetings has just been invaluable, and that’s been true for large and small companies.”

In addition to posting updates on COVID-19 resources on its website and sharing strategies among members, IDFA offers a toolkit on the importance of vaccinations. Many IDFA member companies also have hosted vaccination clinics that they have opened up to the public as well as their employees. Some members have offered incentives for employees to be vaccinated, including gift certificates, paid time off or prize drawings. Tax credits are available for some businesses who offer paid leave for vaccinations and recovery.

Dykes says offering education about the COVID-19 vaccine, demonstrating that other co-workers are getting vaccinated, and the ability to not wear a mask once vaccinated have been the most successful strategies members have seen in boosting employee vaccination rates.

“I don’t think there has been anyone requiring vaccination, but there have been several requiring vaccination in order to take the mask off,” he notes of IDFA members. “We still have to take precautions to protect unvaccinated people at work from each other. You may take that risk in your personal life, but if you come into my facility, I don’t want that risk for you, or for other people who are unvaccinated.”

Yesterday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) posted a more relaxed guidance that notes many employers, including those in the dairy industry, no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who otherwise are not at risk from COVID-19 exposure unless required by other federal, state, local and tribal laws and regulations. The guidance describes which workers are considered “at risk” and provides information on steps employers should take as part of a COVID-19 prevention program aimed at protecting at-risk and unvaccinated employees. This guidance is available at www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework.

To help dairy companies comply with this new guidance, IDFA has announced it will host a webinar June 21 featuring former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and expert Ed Foulke to explain how dairy companies can minimize potential risks from liability associated with OSHA inspections and COVID-19 guidance issued from OSHA and other federal agencies.

Information on the webinar is available at www.idfa.org/events/osha-covid-19-update-how-the-re-opening-impacts-dairys-compliance. IDFA’s coronavirus updates and resources are available at www.idfa.org/news/coronavirus.

The industry also is working to promote COVID-19 vaccines among U.S. dairy farms, and this week the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) sent out an updated guidance on vaccinations and safety measures for dairy farms and cooperatives. The guidance highlights benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine, resources to obtain a vaccine, and safety measures for employers and employees once vaccinated.

“Precautions to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, including the use of masks and other PPE, are still being used on farms and in dairy processing facilities around the U.S. But in some cases, these requirements are loosening thanks to the success of the vaccine,” says Theresa Sweeney-Murphy, communications director, NMPF. “Vaccinated employees may still need to take steps to protect themselves and others in many situations due to the presence of others who are non-vaccinated and the continued circulation of the virus. NMPF suggests continuing to monitor CDC guidance.”

Sweeney-Murphy, who leads NMPF’s COVID-19 communication efforts, notes that the organization continues to update its COVID-19 resources webpage, which was first launched March 6, 2020, one week before shutdowns spread across the country. NMPF continues to engage with the public and work closely with member cooperatives to make sure farmers have the information and resources they need.

She adds that there are countless examples of dairy farmers and cooperatives encouraging vaccination among their workers. For example, Michigan Milk Producers Association has been driving employees to vaccination sites when necessary. Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association gives employees $50 Amazon gift cards upon receiving their vaccine. Dairy Farmers of America employees are offered two hours of pay for each vaccine they receive, and Lone Star Milk Producers’ employees can take paid time off to get their shots. Additionally, a number of dairies and processors have partnered with local health providers to offer on-site vaccination events.

NMPF’s coronavirus resources are available at www.nmpf.org/coronavirus.

The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), which recently hosted a webinar on “Boosting Vaccine Confidence and Participation Among Your Workforce” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8IXFeqobLc), this week drew attention to a new vaccine guidance for employers issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

WCMA summarized the EEOC guidance, which was updated May 28, noting it addresses the following topics among other resources:

• Mandatory vaccination ­— Subject to reasonable accommodation considerations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

• Vaccine records and inquiries — Information about an employee’s vaccination status is considered “confidential medical information” under the ADA and must be kept confidential and stored separately from the employee’s hard-copy or electronic personnel file. Employers may legally ask employees whether they obtained the vaccine from a third party in the community.

• Vaccination of employee subsets — Employers may offer voluntary vaccinations to certain groups of employees and not others as long as this does not discriminate based on protected class or otherwise violate other equal opportunity laws.

• Vaccine incentives — Employers may offer incentives to employees who voluntarily show proof of vaccination as long as the incentive is not so substantial as to be coercive.

The full and updated guidance is available at www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws.

CMN


Anticipated World Dairy Expo contest back with new classes

June 11, 2021

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — On the heels of one of the most challenging years the dairy industry has experienced in decades, the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association (WDPA) is excited to again host its highly anticipated, comprehensive dairy products competition — the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Products Contest.

The contest, now in its 18th year, is the only contest of its kind in North America, since no other national contest includes all dairy products. This means that cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, fluid milk, whipping cream, sour cream and whey processors have a unique opportunity to compete in a prestigious, all-dairy national contest, notes Brad Legreid, executive director, WDPA. The winning companies will be afforded the opportunity to promote and market their products as “the best of the best” in North America.

The contest began in 2003 and at that time had only two classes — one for cheese and one for butter.
Following WDPA board approval in 2002 to launch the contest, Legreid approached then-World Dairy Expo General Manager Tom McKittrick.

“We wanted to use the World Dairy Expo name, which already was established,” Legreid notes. “We told them they wouldn’t have to do a thing, but it gives some name recognition to the event. It also helps to promote the expo — so it’s a win-win.”

To sweeten the deal, Legreid also proposed the contest auction be held in conjunction with the expo itself. He notes that for years, World Dairy Expo had been interested in getting more processor attendees out to the event.

McKittrick agreed, and the contest and auction have been affiliated with World Dairy Expo since.

When faced with where to hold the contest itself, Legreid says the culinary arts department at Madison Area Technical College (now Madison College) came to mind.

“It just made sense. Why not have the judging there where all these students who are going to be future chefs could be exposed to dairy products and be able to mingle among the judges and hear their comments about these dairy products,” he says. “I thought the more comfortable these students might be with dairy products, the more likely they would be to use them in the future.”

Legreid contacted the culinary arts department and head instructor John Johnson. Like McKittrick, Johnson decided to take a chance on the contest, and the partnership has benefited both parties.

This year’s contest will include 93 different dairy product categories. The previous contest, held in 2019, received a record 1,500 entries.

“Last year, we had been planning for the contest because we didn’t know how long COVID would last,” Legreid says. “Judges and volunteers were still on board. We had everything ready to go forward, and we were making adjustments as needed as restrictions shifted.”

Ultimately, the WDPA board and staff decided it was safer and more sensible for everyone to postpone for a year.

“It was a tough decision, but I know it was the right thing,” Legreid says.

He notes that for 2021, WDPA re-contacted all 52 judges the organization planned to use last year. All but three judges decided to come back for the 2021 competition, and WDPA was able to find replacements for those spots.

“We have prided ourselves on having top technical experts serve on our judging panel. Our head judge, Dr. Robert Bradley, has always insisted on having the best judges we can get,” Legreid says. “For those who know him, he is one of the leading experts in the dairy industry throughout North America.

“On top of that, we have excellent assistant head judges — Greg Kinate for cheese, Doug Allen for Grade A, Scott Rankin for ice cream and KJ Burrington for whey,” he adds. “We made sure when we started this contest in 2003 that we developed our own scoring guidelines. Bob Bradley spearheaded that. We feel that our score sheets and the grading process we go through is very solid.”

This year’s contest will be held Aug. 17-19 at the Madison College Culinary School. Non-winning products from the contest are donated to the school for training and education.

Winning products will be auctioned off at the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest Auction Sept. 28. The auction is held on the event grounds at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin, in conjunction with World Dairy Expo.

“This contest benefits multiple groups of people, companies and organizations,” Legreid says. “The biggest beneficiaries by far are the companies who win first place. Every year, we receive so many phone calls and emails just profusely thanking us for our contest because the winning companies have parlayed their success into unprecedented PR and marketing opportunities.”

Even the companies that enter the contest and do not win benefit because they receive the score sheets from the judges, he adds.

“We have 52 highly trained technical judges who really are some of the leading experts in their field. Companies can tweak their product formulas for things they were marked down on — so it’s really a form of R&D. For the low price of an entry fee, they can find out how to make their product better. And I know multiple companies who have entered the contest over the years who did not win, but they kept on improving their products until they did.”

WDPA annually funds three scholarships in part from contest auction proceeds: one $2,000 scholarship in honor of Dr. Robert Bradley, one $2,000 WDPA scholarship and a $2,000 donation to fund the Madison College Culinary Arts Program. WDPA also donates $2,500 to the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest.

Additionally, WDPA this year will continue donating contest product to various charities, including the River Food Pantry and other charitable groups.

Legreid notes the contest and auction would not be possible without the help of many industry volunteers.
“They play such a key role during the judging week,” he says. “They come out there and they unpack the boxes, they put the products on the table for the judges, they put the products back in the boxes and cart them off — it’s a lot of work.”

He also notes two volunteers in particular who have been “invaluable” — Dave Robbins of Dairy Farmers of America Dairy Brands and Dave Koontz of Vivolac Cultures.

“Every year they take personal vacation time when the entries are shipped to the warehouse to put them together and coordinate them. And then they work during judging week,” Legreid says. “I also want to highlight our contest committee, and chairman Tony Anderson. They do a wonderful job.”

Additionally, he gives thanks to the companies who sponsor the contest’s grand champion trophies — including Cheese Market News (cheese and butter), Dairy Foods magazine (Grade A) and Grassland Dairy Products (ice cream).

Legreid notes in this era of competition from non-dairy alternatives, events like the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest help to shine a public spotlight on genuine dairy products.
“I think that’s really important,” he says.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see how this contest benefits so many dairy companies throughout North America and other parts of the world,” he adds. “It’s the fastest-growing contest of any related dairy contest in its time, but it’s still relatively new compared to some contests. As companies are exposed to this and learn more about it, I think we will see more entries. I think the future for this contest is extremely bright, and I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for everyone for years to come.”

For more information on the contest or to enter, visit www.wdpa.net/championship-contest.

CMN


U.S. dairy export volumes surge in April, valued at $690.4 million

June 11, 2021

WASHINGTON — U.S. exports of dairy products in April totaled 211,875 metric tons on a milk solids equivalent, up 25.2% from April 2020 and with gains in every major U.S. dairy product, according to the latest report from the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). April U.S. dairy exports were valued at $690.4 million, up 32.5% from a year earlier.

Cheese showed the highest surge among major dairy exports in April at a record 40,423 metric tons, up 51.2% from April 2020. In its U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog, USDEC notes that gains in this category spread across major markets, with shipments to Korea up by 3,600 metric tons, Mexico up by 3,056 metric tons, Central America by 1,799 metric tons, South America by 1,159 metric tons, Japan by 1,427 metric tons and Australia by 559 metric tons.

“Given that U.S. cheese production grew by 8% in April off strong milk production and new processing capability, increased U.S. cheese exports for the month should not come as a surprise. With supplies generally available, international buyers clearly sought out affordable U.S. cheese, and the U.S. had the cheese to sell,” USDEC says, adding that the United States should continue to see strong cheese exports into the summer and early fall.

April U.S. exports of nonfat dry milk and skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) totaled 78,495 metric tons in April, up 15.5% from a year earlier, with sales to Mexico up 43% and sales to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region up 216%. April exports of NDM/SMP to Southeast Asia fell 27% from the previous year’s high levels.
U.S. exports of whey products in April totaled 54,378 metric tons, up 27.6% from April 2020, with sales to China up 66% and Southeast Asia up 31%.

U.S. lactose exports totaled 38,802 metric tons, up 17.9% from April 2020, with exports to Southeast Asia up 15%, China up 43% and Australia and New Zealand up 38%.

Meanwhile, USDEC notes that U.S. butterfat shipments in April were the most since 2014, jumping 257.0% from the previous year to 5,423 metric tons. This was driven by a prolonged period of price competitiveness, along with strong demand from the MENA region, where sales grew 623%, USDEC says, adding that it remains optimistic that this growth and engagement in the international market should continue into the summer as U.S. butterfat prices remain competitive.

For more export data, visit www.usdec.org/research-and-data/market-information/us-export-data.

CMN


Cheese demand softens as milk continues to flow to vats

June 4, 2021

By Alyssa Mitchell

MADISON, Wis. — As the U.S. milk production season hits its peak flush, a steady flow of milk is keeping cheese vats filled and pressuring prices a bit as government buying slows and supply builds.

However, dairy market analysts say consumers’ return to restaurants this summer, coupled with projections for strong economic growth throughout the remainder of the year, could lead to a run-up in cheese prices in the coming months.

“Demand will be robust for the next several months, an encouraging sign opposite record cheese production,” says Lucas Fuess, director of dairy market intelligence at HighGround Dairy, Chicago. “Heavier demand, especially from foodservice, will keep Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) cheese prices supported throughout the next several months. Many Americans will spend gleefully at restaurants that have been closed or capacity-limited since the pandemic began. Stimulus bills have increased available cash for many people as well, helping demand at both the retail and foodservice level.”

As the United States started to open up with the vaccine rollout early this year, analysts heard of a lot of pipeline refilling from the foodservice industry, with market participants not wanting to get caught short on product as some had last year, notes Kevin Peterson, a broker at ever.ag, Chicago.

“After that, along with the end of (USDA’s) food box program, cheese prices couldn’t hold in the $1.80s through the end of flush,” he says.

Indeed, CME cheese prices have declined from the $1.80-per-pound level seen in early May. CME barrels settled at $1.6150 per pound today, with blocks settling at $1.5000.

“Milk availability is evidence that peak flush season has yet to be achieved in the region,” says USDA’s Dairy Market News. “Cool weather has continued to put a surplus of milk into cheese vats. It is getting to a point where milk handlers are aggressively seeking out destinations for notable volumes of milk. Contacts are hopeful that some heat in the forecast will begin to stanch the current flow of milk.”

Cheese demand varies from very busy to seasonally slower, Dairy Market News adds, noting block cheese inventories are growing in availability, and market tones have begun to signify supply increases.

“No matter what angle you look at cheese demand, it softened in May, and it softened at a time when not only is there plenty of milk in cheese-producing regions, but also plenty of interest in making cheese,” says Dave Kurzawski, team leader of dairy risk management consulting at StoneX, Chicago.

Kurzawski notes that, unlike last year, the relative stability and level of spot cheese prices earlier this year renewed a willingness to charge full steam ahead in making cheese.

“That mindset coincides with increased productive capacity,” he says. “The initial reopening demand story is likely behind us. That said, cheese prices adjusted lower in May, and we want to respect the potential for a demand response to price. We also want to respect that, like last year, supportive cheese demand may continue to come in unpredictable waves. But for now, we have inventory to clear. And the risk for the next several weeks is that prices need to fall to clear it.”

CME spot cheese futures show prices in the $1.70s-$1.80s later this summer, leading analysts to speculate that the futures market will decline, or the spot market will gain strength to align with the futures curve.
Peterson notes the new MWC plant in Michigan also is impacting the cheese market, with the facility processing nearly 8 million pounds of milk per day.

“I think even with new capacity it is possible to still see a decent run-up in cheese prices late in the summer,” he says. “If we look back to 2019, before COVID was even a thing, we topped out at about $2.25 cheese average during November. Again, this year we have added block capacity from a few companies; however, I think the nationwide full reopening we seem to be heading toward quickly will help to bolster dairy demand and could lead to higher prices than some might expect.”

Fuess notes one key risk is labor availability, with restaurant shutdowns or reduced speed of service a risk factor that could hurt overall sales and dairy demand.

He adds, however, that demand from Asia has been a critical price driver in recent months, especially as spring supplies were tighter than expected on a global basis, and further buying from China will keep prices, especially powders, supported.

“When this buying slows, global dairy values could see a setback,” Fuess says.

Meanwhile, analysts are keeping a close eye on feed/grain prices. Peterson says as they continue to trade at historically high levels, the market could see a bit of consolidation in the milk supply if margins aren’t kept at a profitable level on the farm.

“You’ve gotta watch feed costs,” Kurzawski agrees. “The expectation is that high feed costs will negatively impact producers and production. But the $64,000 question is: when? A less popular thought is that it may be more delayed than expected.

“The U.S. milk supply seems more insulated than you might ordinarily think due to profitability last year — especially for Class III producers — and substantial direct government payments,” he adds. “We can’t change the weather or the price of corn, but U.S. producers do seem to be in a very strong position heading into summer.”

CMN


Cacique LLC breaks ground on new facility in Amarillo, Texas

June 4, 2021

LOS ANGELES — Hispanic foods company Cacique LLC this week officially broke ground on an $88 million dairy processing facility in Amarillo, Texas. The new 200,000-square-foot facility will help meet growing demand for Cacique’s products nationwide, the company says. Cacique plans to begin operation at the new facility in fall 2022 and expects to create approximately 200 new full-time jobs.

The new facility, which is being constructed at 8647 S. Georgia St. in Amarillo, will be equipped to handle dairy processing, including production of the privately-owned company’s Mexican-style cheeses, cremas and yogurts.

“After an extensive, national search, we are very happy to select Amarillo, Texas, as the location of our new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility,” says Gil de Cardenas, CEO, Cacique LLC. “We are grateful to the governor’s office, Randall County and the City of Amarillo for their hospitality, work and support throughout the site selection process and in helping us usher in the next era of growth for our company. From our first visit, we knew that Amarillo was special. It’s a vibrant, thriving and diverse melting pot of cultures, and we’re thrilled to become part of this local community as we put down some new Cacique family roots in the great state of Texas.”

The project benefits from receiving a Texas Enterprise Fund grant from the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, as well as an incentive package approved by the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. and the City Council of Amarillo.

“I am proud to welcome Cacique to Texas and excited for the incredible impact they will make on our state’s economic success story,” Abbott says. “Amarillo is a natural home for Cacique, as the Texas Panhandle is a magnet for the manufacturing and food processing industries. Thank you to Cacique for choosing to invest in the Lone Star State.”

Cacique says the plant will feature state-of-the-art technology, allowing the company to increase its overall capacity and meet growing demand for its products. Additionally with the new plant, Cacique intends to increase its research and development to drive product innovation and to continue to sustainably enhance its national presence as part of the company’s long-term growth strategy.

Cacique operates multiple complementary facilities to enable efficient production at scale, including a dairy processing plant in City of Industry, California, a meat processing plant in Cedar City, Utah, and a salsa processing plant in Gilbert, Arizona.

The Amarillo dairy processing facility follows a recent investment in Cacique by Boston-based investment manager The Baupost Group LLC, part of a round of funding earlier this year to accelerate the brand’s continued growth nationwide.

CMN


Fiscal 2022 budget proposal includes bump in USDA funding

June 4, 2021

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden late last week released his $6 trillion fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, which includes a nearly 17% increase in discretionary funding ($28 billion) for USDA.

“The president’s budget gives USDA a new set of tools to address the urgent challenges of our time — racial injustice, a changing climate and hunger,” says U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The proposed USDA budget would:

• Expand broadband access: $700 million is being requested for Reconnect to provide access to quality broadband to rural residents and address challenges for tribal communities. High-speed internet would serve as an economic equalizer for rural America while creating high-paying union jobs in rural America, the administration says. This investment also builds on the $100 billion of funding proposed in the American Jobs Plan.

• Support a strong nutrition safety net: Women, infants and children have better health outcomes when healthy, nutritious food is on their table, Vilsack says. This budget requests $6.7 billion for the for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to help vulnerable families, address racial disparities and combat rising food insecurity.

• Combat the climate crisis and conserve U.S. lands: The budget increases funding for climate smart agriculture, climate resilience and clean energy by nearly $1.5 billion. This funding supports effective land management decisions and partnerships with local communities and Tribal Nations to address climate adaptation, conservation and ecological resilience. This work will address the underlying conditions of drought that are leading to longer, hotter fire seasons, Vilsack says.

• Invest in critical research and development capacity for farmers: American farmers must be able to compete in world markets to thrive, all while protecting the health of America’s soil and water. This request provides $4 billion for USDA’s research, education and outreach programs focused on making investments in agricultural research to put science and data-driven tools and American technologies in the hands of farmers.

“We need to equip America’s farmers to out-compete the world,” Vilsack says.

“Enacting the budget policies into law this year would strengthen our nation’s economy and lay the foundation for shared prosperity, while also improving our nation’s long-term fiscal health,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the budget proposes $6.5 billion in funding for FDA, an overall increase of $477 million (8%) over the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget, news reports say.

According to FDA, the $6.5 billion budget would be used for “investments in critical public health infrastructure, core food safety and medical product safety programs and other vital public health programs,” which includes $3.6 billion in budgeting authority and $2.9 billion in user fees.

CMN


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Today's Cheese Spot Trading
June 18, 2021


Barrels: $1.5425 (-2 3/4)
Blocks: $1.4925 (+1/4)


Click here for more market activity
Cheese Production
U.S. Total April
1.136 bil. lbs.


Milk Production
U.S. Total April
19.295 bil. lbs.

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