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Dairyland Packaging marks 40 years as family-owned dairy packaging supplier







By Alyssa Mitchell

Photo courtesy of Dairyland Packaging
COMPLETE PACKAGING SOLUTIONS — Located in South Central Wisconsin in the Village of Cross Plains, Dairyland Packaging always has prided itself on hard work, building relationships and unmatched customer service.
Photo courtesy of Dairyland Packaging 
WAREHOUSING PROGRAMS — Dairyland Packaging offers warehousing programs to provide on-time deliveries, provide better pricing and help with low-risk supply options.

CROSS PLAINS, Wis. — Dairyland Packaging USA is marking its 40th anniversary this year as a family-owned supplier of comprehensive packaging solutions.

Dairyland Packaging was founded in 1980 by Dennis Howard when he left his position in sales at Industrial Paper and Packaging to strike out on his own and create a full-service packaging company.

“I saw a need for personal customer service,” Dennis says. “At the time we were coming out of a paper shortage, and the large manufacturers pulled salespeople off the road to save on expenses. I saw the opportunity to supply packaging on a personal level and decided to go for it.”

Dairyland Packaging has made a name for itself servicing and specializing in packaging for the dairy and agricultural industry. Since its beginnings, the company has experienced uninterrupted growth and expanded into all areas of packaging. Its customer base now spans across North America and covers multiple markets and industries.

Located in South Central Wisconsin in the Village of Cross Plains, Dairyland Packaging always has prided itself on hard work, building relationships and unmatched customer service.
Co-CEOs and siblings Doug Howard and Renee Howard Dahlk have a combined 56 years of experience with the company and purchased it from Dennis in 2017.

“​I was 19 and in my second semester of college locally, and to make a little extra money I was assisting on a remodeling project at Dairyland,” Doug says of his first year coming onboard with the company. “After a few days I started helping out by answering phones when some of the staff would ask ‘if I could get that and take a message.’”

As he began to field more calls, Doug says he realized he also could address some of the inquiries that were coming through. After some time, customers began to ask for him by name to handle their requests and inquiries. He was then offered the opportunity to start a customer service (CS) program at Dairyland Packaging.

“I realized how much I enjoyed working with people and following an order or project from start to finish,” he says. “After about a year my CS had morphed into outside sales, which shortly became a full-time job, and I never looked back.”

Renee’s experience was a little different. She faced some challenges being taken seriously in a male-
dominated industry. In fact, she says she can’t recall working with a woman in her first few years of sales.

“After studying design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I worked for 10 years in the insurance industry before deciding I wanted to get into the family business,” she says.

“It was different in 1993. It’s refreshing to see women working today not only in customer service and sales but also in leadership roles in quality assurance, as plant managers and CEOs,” she adds.

Despite the initial challenges, Renee says her family’s background in dairy provided a strong foundation of affection and passion for the dairy industry.

Their great-grandparents owned a large dairy farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Their grandmother was crowned the 1942 Wisconsin Dairy Queen at the Wisconsin State Fair. She served two terms because of the war and traveled all over the United States via train promoting the Wisconsin dairy industry. The following year, a man was chosen to promote the industry as it was not safe for travel, and in 1948 the first Alice in Dairyland was crowned.

“We’ve always supported the state fair and continue to go every year as a family,” Renee adds.

Dairyland Packaging also participates in the state fair’s annual Blue Ribbon Cheese & Butter Auction where first-place winners of the annual dairy competition are sold to the highest bidder. The auction is a fundraiser for the Wisconsin State Fair Dairy Promotion Board. Auction proceeds fund scholarships for students pursuing dairy-related degrees and support the board’s interactive educational display at Wisconsin State Fair Park.

“Even though we’re not manufacturing the dairy products, we’re supplying the packaging that goes on the products. There’s a sense of pride and heritage in that,” Renee says. “We feel that by supplying quality packaging to our customers, we are in turn serving the farmers and the industry.”

Dairyland Packaging provides an array of dairy packaging solutions, including cheese block and barrel liners, box liners, multi-wall bags, bulk sacks, laminated pouches and specialty films, plastic cups, lids, shrink bags and buckets.

“Our nine-person sales team is one of the most experienced in the industry and has extensive knowledge covering all areas of packaging,” Renee says.

Through the partnerships the company has built with its certified manufacturers, it is not limited to the resources of a single plant.

“While dairy is our main focus, we also service other industries including livestock seed, agriculture seed and fertilizer, pet, health care and industrial,” Renee says.

“Everything we do is specialty, so we make sure it’s the right packaging for our customers’ products,” she adds. “We don’t just go with one supplier or product and try to make it work — we find the solution using multiple suppliers to fit the customer’s need.”

The company also offers warehousing programs to provide on-time deliveries, provide better pricing and help with low-risk supply options.

Renee notes in the past, most of the dairy plants were privately owned.

“We worked directly with the owners and family members. We’ve seen a lot of corporate buyouts over the years, and we’re rising to the challenge of still maintaining personal and professional relationships that pay for themselves,” she says.

Doug agrees.

“What a journey it’s been meeting such a diverse group of amazing people in this industry,” he says. “A lot has changed in the dynamics of the typical dairy packaging customer (with mergers and buyouts); however, the dairy industry continues to attract the same approachable, professional, down-to-earth people I was drawn to working with more than 30 years ago.”

While the landscape of sales and business has evolved to become largely electronic and less personal, Dennis says Dairyland Packaging prides itself on its personal relationships and still prefers hands-on interaction whenever possible.

“There is less face-to-face contact, but our dedication to customer loyalty and service remains the same,” he says.

The customer always comes first, Renee adds.

“We still have someone physically answering the phone in our office, even during this (COVID-19) crisis,” she says. “We think it’s important to have a voice you can talk to so you don’t have to wait for a reply.”

As the company looks to the future, it’s clear that maintaining that personal connection and dedication to service is a priority. So, too, is the family foundation, as the fourth generation of the family is now entering the business.

“You don’t know what the future holds, but we want to give the fourth generation an opportunity to take pride in something we’ve built,” Renee says. She adds that the company always has treated all of its staff, manufacturers and customers like family.

“We all work together. We try to stay focused on the future and what products are being tested and manufactured and offered, and stay knowledgeable so when someone is looking for something, we can offer them the best solution for their packaging needs,” she says. “We’ve aligned ourselves with top-quality supplier partners, and we work closely with them.”

“One thing that has always been clear is we are only going to supply top-quality products and not cut corners or quality supply lines to save money,” Doug adds. “We were some of the first out there putting customers into value-added products 40 years ago, and we have continually worked with suppliers to develop stronger, lighter and better-performing materials.”

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