Ben Biery leads Biery Cheese to many firsts in pursuit of growth

 

Around 2010, Ben Biery, CEO of Biery Cheese, set a few goals. One of those goals had to do with the company’s growth; the other related to its operations.

Much of the cheese maker’s business is private label products for retail customers such as The Kroger Co. and Aldi Inc., retailers that are constantly growing. Their suppliers, then, need to match their pace both from a product growth and volume standpoint, and in terms of growth of ideas.

“If you’re not on the same growth strategy as them, they will find somebody else to service their needs down the road,” Ben says.

This led to the expansion of Biery’s home base in Louisville, Ohio, that nearly doubled the size of its facility.

The company’s other goal was to get closer to its Wisconsin customers. In 2013, the company bought the business of Kickapoo Valley Cheese in Sherry, Wisconsin. The Kickapoo facility, however, was too landlocked and not big enough to enable Biery to accomplish the goals it set out in its strategic plan.

The company soon found the empty facility of Basic American Foods in Plover, Wisconsin. Biery Cheese renovated the property and moved into it in 2015. In doing so, it met two more goals. It achieved logistic and cost efficiencies to help it reach the 15 percent of its customer base that’s located in Wisconsin, and it reduced its risk by creating operational redundancies.

“When suppliers look at us as a viable option, when you look at the large brands out there from a grocery retail standpoint and also from a local perspective, it gives reassurance to them that we have a second location in case something happens to the first location,” Ben says.

Adding the second location also gave the company an economy of scale — the lowest-cost product with the highest quality and highest level of food safety to appease customers that continuously look for cost reductions and the assurance that supply would be minimally affected were disaster to strike.

Underlying its significant growth during the past seven years were new challenges: leading a company spread across two states, incorporating acquired employees into Biery’s culture and through it all developing and launching the first branded products in the company’s nearly 90-year history.

The future respects the past

As Biery brought the former Kickapoo Valley Cheese employees into the fold, one question Ben kept at the forefront was how the Kickapoo organization was going to fit culturally. Figuring that out meant meeting a lot of the people and talking with them to determine how well they know the business and whether they would be able to adapt.