Insight on Business

The August 2011 Insight on Business

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I t’s just not enough to call Lou Gentine a cheese head. True, he likes cheese. His license plate does say PROVO, short for his favorite cheese. He is also a big Green Bay Packers fan. The Gentine family has long sense of the word. But the term just does not seem inclusive enough to encapsulate Gentine. Perhaps head cheese would be better. Aſter all, he has spent much of the last 30 years guiding Sargento, his family’s business, into a leader in the cheese industry, essentially inventing at least one category of consumer cheese products and much of the packaging consumers have come to expect. And he doesn’t even make the cheese. “We don’t actually make cheese here,” says Gentine, chief executive officer and chairman of Sargento. “We contract for it with some very specific standards. The packaging was key to what my father started.” What his father started as a side had roots in the Plymouth area. business to meet a demand for Old World cheeses from ethnic groups in Milwaukee has since grown into an industry leader in terms of cheese marketing and packaging. Sargento is one of the largest, privately-held cheese companies in the United States, with nearly 1,500 employees and net sales in excess of $975 million. “In their role as marketer, they are He would seem to qualify in every by far the innovator when it comes to cheese, especially in the shredded market,” says Jeanne Carpenter, executive director of Wisconsin Cheese Originals, a Dane County-based organization dedicated to sharing information about new artisan cheeses. “Before Sargento, it was all pretty much orange and powdery. They were the first to see the opportunity and they took it up a notch.” Shredded cheese, the product which is nearly synonymous with Sargento’s success, is now only one of a myriad of cheese products, though still an important one. Sargento now supplies commercial customers and consumers with hundreds of different varieties and forms of cheese, cheese products, appetizers, sauces and snack foods. SPIFFED UP HEADQUARTERS The company has been preparing for growth at its main campus in Plymouth as it gears up for a projected 120 new office and production employees in the next five years. The current headquarters has been renovated and expanded by 5,000 square feet to make room for human resources and wellness facilities; it opens this month. A new 45,000 square-foot, three-story building, designed to house office and production employees, will open in October. The company is estimated to be 20 times larger now than when Gentine took over. “They essentially elevated (packaged cheese) from a bulk Sargento executive team from left: Kristi Jankowski, SVP Innovation; George Hoff, CFO; Lou Gentine, CEO & Chairman; Louie Gentine, President and Chief Customer Officer; Karri Neils, SVP Human Resources; Mark Rhyan, COO. 32 | INSIGHT • Augus t 2011 www. insightonbusiness .com

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