January 15, 2021
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Wiskerchen’s addition of All Star LLC presents promising new opportunity

Photo courtesy of Wiskerchen Cheese
SPECIALTY PRODUCTION — The focus at Wiskerchen Cheese over this past year has been keeping employees safe while producing the highest-quality products for its customers. Pictured above, left to right, are Wiskerchen Cheese’s Gabby Medina, John Hartman, Chris Meyer, Jeff Katzenberger and John Wiskerchen.

Photo courtesy of Wiskerchen Cheese

ALL STAR TEAM — Wiskerchen Cheese acquired All Star in September 2020. Going forward, All Star LLC will operate as a separate company under Wiskerchen Cheese. Pictured above, left to right, are All Star’s Mary Scharinger, Bob Brandl, Lynne Belling and John Wiskerchen.

By Rena Archwamety

AUBURNDALE, Wis. — John Wiskerchen, managing director and part of the third-generation family owners of Wiskerchen Cheese Inc., says his company is “bullish” on its prospects and those of the U.S. cheese and dairy industry this year.

Wiskerchen Cheese has good reason to be optimistic. Its acquisition of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin-based All Star Ltd. closed a few months ago, bringing even more capabilities to its already-diversified portfolio of specialty cheese offerings for retail, foodservice and ingredients.

Wiskerchen notes, “2020 kind of put us in a little bit of status quo position. With so much uncertainty in the marketplace, we were not looking aggressively at new projects of any size. Our focus was on catering to existing customers, doing a good job for them and making the highest-quality product within our food safety parameters.

“Our focus for 2021, if the indicators are true and we can get the pandemic under control, is our marketing and distribution channels, where we see a lot of opportunity,” he adds. “We want to be ready when the markets we’re accustomed to get back to normal. I don’t think any of us know what the new normal is going to look like, but I think we’re excited to see it.”

Since Wiskerchen’s grandfather, Lester Wiskerchen Sr., founded the company in 1936 in Auburndale, Wisconsin, Wiskerchen Cheese has grown and evolved to meet demands and challenges in the changing markets.

“In the early years, it was small-scale production. Milk came in cans behind horses on wagons. There were one or two manufacturing vats, and cheesemakers would have manufactured cheese and butter inside the facility,” Wiskerchen says.

In those early years, the company was focused on more traditional American-style cheeses like Cheddar, Farmer’s and Colby in various sizes and configurations. Markets were mostly local, contained to the Upper Midwest.

As the decades passed, there was an evolution in different types of manufacturing and cheese types. Through the middle part of the century through the 1970s, Wiskerchen Cheese focused on 40-pound block manufacturing of its traditional cheeses, later adding cheeses for pizza. Sales expanded nationally, though mostly were concentrated in the Midwest and Eastern United States.

In the 1980s, Wiskerchen Cheese began shifting to the more value-added, specialty-type cheese production for which the company is known today.

“It became a good fit for smaller and mid-size cheese manufacturers to focus on something that was not a true commodity and needed more attention to manufacturing and specialty packaging,” Wiskerchen says. “Through the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s we evolved through a lot of different cheese types with more of a specialty focus on them.”

Wiskerchen adds that this also was about the same time that national growth in private label sectors really took off, with major retailers seeking to develop their own brands to compete with national brands.

“They relied on manufacturers like us to make product for them,” he says. “It was a good fit. With the challenges of trying to make a national brand, if you can partner with a retailer, it’s really advantageous for a smaller or mid-size cheesemaker.”

Wiskerchen’s largest cheese category today is the Blue-vein sector, which it has developed over the last 20 years. The company also has had a substantial presence in Greek-style Feta since 1987. Over the last two decades, the company also has worked in goat cheese categories, where it mostly converts and packages cheese from co-manufacturers.

Wiskerchen Cheese’s sales and marketing efforts are split into three categories; one-third is focused on retail, such as supermarkets, private label and some of its own brands, including the newly-acquired All Star cheese brand.

Another third of its sales enters the foodservice and distribution channel, catering to places like restaurants, delis and government institutions. Many of these cheeses are used for entree toppings or meal-preparation scenarios, Wiskerchen says.

The remaining third goes toward ingredients for manufacturers that make dressings, dips, sauces, powdered cheese flavoring or other foods.

Since 1991, John Wiskerchen, his brother Tom and sister Kathy have partnered as owners of the family company, which now has modern manufacturing, packing and distribution facilities in both Auburndale and Marshfield, Wisconsin. In addition to selling cheese across the United States, Wiskerchen Cheese over the last decade has entered the export arena, routinely selling cheeses to Canada and Mexico.

“Some more unique-type projects could be going to Turkey, the Caribbean or South Africa,” Wiskerchen says.

“Our export side has certainly grown the last 10 years.”

• All Star opportunities

With the recent addition of All Star Ltd., which will operate as a standalone subsidiary, All Star LLC, Wiskerchen Cheese has gained new customers as well as supply chain capabilities.

“All Star does not manufacture any products — they focus on sourcing, working with manufacturers like ourselves and others in the U.S.,” Wiskerchen explains. “All Star has a logistics arm and an assist with distribution and product delivery. It also has large sales outlets.”

Before the acquisition, All Star was a customer of Wiskerchen Cheese for more than 15 years. Bob Brandl, who founded All Star along with his father-in-law in 1991, had been looking for someone who would take over the company after his retirement.

“We had regular discussions about succession planning and where he wanted to be next with All Star,” Wiskerchen says. “When he made the decision that he eventually wanted to retire and find a good home for All Star, we went through the due diligence process to see if it would be a good fit for Wiskerchen. During the process, we realized there was not a lot of competitive overlap with his customer base and ours.”

All Star’s focus is on supplying customers that require specific cheese products for unique applications, mostly for ingredients but also, to a smaller extent, foodservice and retail applications.

“It was a lot of fun going through the process and recognizing where our synergies have been,” Wiskerchen says. “Bob and his team have a wealth of knowledge working with national manufacturing customers and sourcing niche dairy products for applications. Combined with Wiskerchen, All Star really opened up sales outlets. Looking at the combined entities — our manufacturing and packaging capabilities, coupled with All Star’s sourcing and product development — it’s a nice fit.”

Brandl will remain actively employed with All Star until October of this year, after which he will take on more of a consulting role. With the acquisition having just closed in September 2020, Wiskerchen says his team still is in the process of learning all of All Star’s product offerings and sales outlets, while All Star is in the process of learning about all of Wiskerchen’s capabilities.

“All Star has a large presence in catering to regional pizza manufacturers. They have offerings for delis and items consumers would take home to prepare. Another example is they work with popcorn manufacturers that need specialty cheese ingredients for popcorn flavors. There are real neat niche products All Star gets involved with,” Wiskerchen says. “I think the best is yet to come.”



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