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|Articles - January 2010|
|Thursday, December 17, 2009|
It says something about a place when almost 1 million people a year make a pilgrimage to a cheese factory. Yes, the Tillamook County Creamery Association produces more than that, but this house was built on the rock of cheddar 100 years ago and it’s not moving.
A wise CEO does not mess with this kind of thing lightly.
So it would seem that Harold Strunk is well suited for the job: low-key, Midwestern unflashy, with a famous cow in his past. He has spent more than 20 years in marketing and sales in the dairy products industry, including 12 years at Borden in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and the iconic Elsie the Borden cow. Borden no longer exists and Elsie’s likeness is now licensed to various companies such as Smuckers. “There was no discipline or planning,” says Strunk in explaining the demise of the company, which was at one time the largest producer of dairy products in the U.S. It’s a mistake he will not make at Tillamook. “We are very focused on cheddar cheese.”
Since he arrived two years ago, Strunk has been upgrading business systems and infrastructure so TCCA can compete on the customer service front and be positioned for controlled growth. That growth will stay focused on the core dairy products. “There is not a lot of product innovation at Tillamook,” he says. “It’s a risky proposition.” In 2000, TCAA built a new 85,000-square-foot cheese-making plant in Boardman, and then expanded it again in 2006 to 150,000 square feet, which increased TCCA’s total output by 50%.
“I think it can be a billion-dollar company,” says Strunk. “It’s that strong a brand. It’s one of the truly differentiated products I’ve worked on in my career … This reminds me a lot of Coors beer in the 1970s. There’s a buzz about it back East. There’s a mystique, and zealots.
“One of the biggest things I learned at Borden was the emotional connection to Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. It’s the same thing people in the Northwest have — an emotional connection to this cheese. We ran out of sharp earlier this year and there was such an outcry.”
TCCA is a farmer-owned cooperative that is publicly traded and privately held, and also a packaged-goods company. It’s a unique challenge when the suppliers are the owners.
“One different side of [this job] is how to keep the farmers healthy. We try to pay the most for milk, not the least.” TCCA used to lock in the milk price it paid to the co-op farmers for a whole year. Strunk changed that to quarterly, then to monthly pricing.
“How do you grow a co-op based product? There is tension all the time,” Strunk says. “The farmers are interested in their milk supply. What does their milk check look like? I’m trying to get them to understand that they are investors in a company that should grow.” There is also tension around whether to build equity or get a payout.
“The dynamic with the farmers has been really different for me. The idea of keeping your farmers whole has been very difficult. Every farm situation is different. You don’t know what the break-even point is for them.”
Tillamook cheese is a product that takes time to make and age, and pricing needs to be premium, but not too high, says Strunk. Finding that sweet spot on pricing to help manage the margins is where Strunk feels he brings expertise. Still, farmers call him all the time and want to know why he doesn’t charge more for the cheese.
Part of Strunk’s strategy is to keep the emotional connection strong. But being beloved in the Northwest doesn’t mean you can rest on your curds.
The company has invested heavily in social media, notably piling up more than 25,000 fans on its Facebook page. It also will launch this month the Loaf Love tour (“Put a little loaf in your heart”) and a new spokecheese: Loafy, a two-pound Tillamook cheddar loaf. The two-pounder, incredibly, does not exist on the East Coast. “We need people to taste us,” Strunk says. “Then they’ll fall in love.” The tour starts in Tucson and will travel around the country with VW buses reshaped as cheese loafs in tow. It will give Tillamook a chance to tell its story.
“If you don’t go directly to the consumers,” says Strunk, “you put your brand in the hands of the retailers.” He wouldn’t say what markets he might be targeting, but believes “There is cheddar potential everywhere.”
The next question is inevitable. In a Loafy vs. Elsie smackdown, who wins? Strunk quickly considers and decides it would be cow over cheese now, but one day, “I would like Loafy to be as big as Elsie.”
Thursday, August 13, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
Portland-based startup ImpactFlow recently announced a $5.7 million funding round. CEO and co-founder Tyler Foreman talks about matching businesses with nonprofits, his time at Intel and the changing face of philanthropy.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Which of the following would be most effective in reducing the cost of operating a public university in Oregon?
Friday, July 17, 2015
Photographer Jason Kaplan takes a look at Murray's Pharmacy in Heppner. The family owned business is run by John and Ann Murray, who were featured in our July/August cover story: 10 Innovators in Rural Health Care.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY CHRIS NOBLE
Whether you're stepping out to work or onto the track, Pacific Northwest shoe companies have you covered.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Renee Spears, founder and owner of Portland-based Rose City Mortgage, is hot to trot to sell pot.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
How do you put a baby on the cover of a business magazine without it looking too cutesy?
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE AND LINDA BAKER
Child care in Oregon is expensive and hard to find. We delved into the numbers and talked to a few executives and managers about day care costs, accessibility and work-life balance.
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Yesterday, a divided National Labor Relations Board dropped another hammer on the employer community. In a long-awaited and much debated move, the Board jettisoned the decades old standard for determining when two independent businesses should be considered joint employers of an individual worker for collective bargaining purposes.
Transforming the culture of Oregon’s educational leadership.
The Board dismissed a petition related to efforts to unionize the Northwestern University football team.
The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) is pleased to announce 16 finalists — from over 60 nominees — for the 2015 OEN Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards.
Oregon Sick Leave is here, and changes to the federal white-collar worker regulations are on the way. This workshop will prepare you for both. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to start planning now for the future impact on your operations and finances.
Presented by OEN + CENTRL + YESpdx.