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December 8, 2017
For a listing of previous Retail Watch stories, please see our Retail Watch Archive.

Guggisberg Cheese renovates to meet award-driven demand

SWISS VARIETIES — Award-winning Guggisberg Cheese makes Swiss, Baby Swiss and other related cheese varieties. Swiss manufactured by the company has won first in its class each year at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest or the World Championship Cheese Contest (the contests are in alternate years) for the last three years as well as other top awards.

A FAMILY AFFAIR — Several members of the Guggisberg family work at Guggisberg Cheese. They are (left to right) Mike Womacks, Doughty Valley plant manager; Ashton Guggisberg-Womacks, retail store management; Richard Guggisberg, president; Ursula Guggisberg-Bennett, marketing coordinator; and Kyle Bennett, production supervisor.

By Kate Sander

MILLERSBURG, Ohio — With all of the accolades and attention it’s received over the last several years, it only makes sense that Guggisberg Cheese would need to expand.

In the last three years alone, Premium Swiss made by Guggisberg Cheese has won first in its class each year at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest or the World Championship Cheese Contest (the contests are in alternate years). Not only that, but in 2015, Swiss made by Guggisberg Cheese beat out all other first place class winners to be named the overall U.S. grand champion cheese. In addition, the company has won several awards at the World Dairy Expo annual competition and in Ohio state competitions.

“It’s a source of pride,” Richard Guggisberg, company president, says of the awards. “It’s shown our commitment to quality and gotten our name out there.”

So expand the company has. As part of an ongoing project that has taken the better part of four years, the Swiss cheesemaker has added about 80,000 square feet of manufacturing capacity at its Sugarcreek, Ohio, plant.

“Because of the national recognition of being selected the grand champion at the 2015 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and first place in the Swiss category at the 2016 World and 2017 U.S. competition, we have had numerous customers contact us as a potential supplier but have not been in a position to move ahead because our Swiss and Baby Swiss plants were at maximum capacity,” says Ray Kohl, who handles sales for Guggisberg Cheese. “With the recent plant expansion and new equipment, we’re in a position to start supplying new customers and increasing sales.”


“Our cheeses check
all the boxes and
meet the standards
for a high-quality
Grade A Swiss.
The awards that we
have won at the U.S.
and World Championship
Cheese competitions,
which are judged
by the most
knowledgeable cheese
graders in the world,
confirm our products
are at the
highest quality level
in the industry.”

Ray Kohl
GUGGISBERG CHEESE


The expansion also has allowed the company to keep pace with retail and foodservice customers’ food safety needs.

“We’ve had tremendous acceptance, steady growth and a lot of people who want to buy our products,” Guggisberg says. “But also you have to constantly update with food safety in mind.”

Both the company’s plant in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and its Millersburg, Ohio, plant, known as “Doughty Valley,” are SQF Level 3 certified.

The expansion at Sugarcreek includes new brine and packaging areas as well as space for cheese production while achieving higher levels of product consistency and efficiency, Guggisberg says.

The plant produces 200-pound block Premium Swiss, 200-pound block Baby Swiss, Baby Swiss deli slicing loaves, Swiss Lace deli slicing loaves and 200-pound traditional Swiss wheels.

Original Baby Swiss wheels and deli slicing loaves, Amish Butter Cheese wheels and deli slicing loaves, Lacerne cheese wheels and Farmers cheese deli slicing loaves are produced at Millersburg.

Guggisberg sometimes quips that he’s not re-creating the wheel.

“The renovation/expansion is an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary process,” he adds, explaining the company is continually reinvesting in its processes as needs arise.


“It’s a constant
focus on quality
in every aspect
of our production.”

Richard Guggisberg
GUGGISBERG CHEESE


For example, while the company largely makes blocks of cheese, several years ago it installed equipment at the Sugarcreek plant that allows it to make 14 pieces of 200-pound Swiss from a vat, with the 14th being the 200-pound wheel that is sometimes in demand by specialty retailers because of its sheer size and impressiveness.

Guggisberg, whose father, Alfred, a Swiss immigrant, started the family cheese business, also says the wheels are a way to get back to the company’s roots. The cheesemaking trade was passed from father to son, and as a child Guggisberg remembers scraping Swiss wheels during curing before moving into the business full-time as an adult.

It’s a fine line to walk, of course, between specialty cheese and commodity. While some specialty customers are looking for award-winning specialty wheels, many customers are looking for easier-to-handle blocks from a quality cheesemaker. Guggisberg Cheese can do it all, according to Kohl.

“Our cheeses check all the boxes and meet the standards for a high-quality Grade A Swiss,” Kohl says. “The awards that we have won at the U.S. and World Championship Cheese competitions, which are judged by the most knowledgeable cheese graders in the world, confirm our products are at the highest quality level in the industry.”

Quality is always key, adds Guggisberg, who attributes the company’s success to upholding long-standing traditions of superior quality, authenticity, dedicated employees and a genuine concern for customer satisfaction.


“Our goal is
to continue slow
and steady growth,
supplying a secure
market for the milk
in our area.”

Richard Guggisberg
GUGGISBERG CHEESE


“It’s a constant focus on quality in every aspect of our production,” Guggisberg says.

He also gives credit to the approximately 200 farmers, many of whom are Amish, who direct ship their Grade A milk to Guggisberg Cheese.

“Better Swiss cheese is made from milk from the hills, from the hilly part of the country,” he adds.

Despite the additions, Guggisberg Cheese isn’t looking at massive growth for the sake of growing.

“Our goal is to continue slow and steady growth, supplying a secure market for the milk in our area,” Guggisberg says.

Sustainability also is important for the company’s 130 dedicated employees and for his family, Guggisberg says. Members of the family also continue to be involved in the business. Daughter Ursula works in marketing while her husband Kyle is the production manager at Sugarcreek. Daughter Ashton is the Millersburg retail store manager and her husband Mike manages the Millersburg plant.

When it comes to marketing, the company has found working individually with each customer’s particular needs works best.

“What has shown the best results for us is working on a customer by customer basis to grow our business,” Kohl says. “We work with our customers to find the best merchandising vehicles to get their shoppers to purchase our products.”


“What has shown the best results for us is
working on a customer
by customer basis to grow our business.
We work with our
customers to find the best merchandising
vehicles to get their shoppers to purchase our products.”

Ray Kohl
GUGGISBERG CHEESE


Some of the merchandising vehicles the company utilizes include signage, promotional materials, store sampling and sampling at various local events, as well as placement in radio, newsprint and magazine publications. Many of these highlight the company’s award-winning status.

Kohl says currently the company’s sales are approximately 80 percent retail and 20 percent foodservice. Sales are evenly balanced between the Guggisberg brands, store brand and other cheese companies who cut and package under their own labels.

With all of the awards, the company has experienced tremendous growth under its own brand name, which is generally marketed in a seven-state region around Ohio. Guggisberg expects that growth will continue.

The recent expansions are allowing Guggisberg Cheese to better service growing foodservice demand. It also will allow Guggisberg Cheese to bring more specialty items online with relative ease.

“We are currently doing R&D work on other Swiss varieties such as lacy, lowfat and low sodium, as well as other cheeses that complement our current products,” Kohl says.

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