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

“When I look out three, five, 10 years down the road, who is Biery Cheese going to be? Where do they fit into this marketplace? You see crazy mergers and acquisitions today, so we have to figure out what do we do well, and then leverage those opportunities. One thing that we do very well from a company standpoint is ideation — coming up with new, sometimes crazy, off-the-wall ideas to send out there. When you ask, ‘how can we take this strength that we have and apply it to the marketplace?’ The best avenue that we had thought about was a branded strategy,” Ben says.

But first, Biery has to prove that it can be more than a private label packager.

“We’re going to have to change the mindset,” Ben says. “We’re not one or the other. In today’s world, there are a lot of large companies that are both.”

Like anything, Ben says it takes time and steady reinforcement of the brand while strategically identifying the right customers for its branded products. All of those factors come into play in its marketing, advertising and packaging campaigns to align in a uniform look and voice.

Biery launched its first branded products in October 2015, first in Stark County and then in Western Pennsylvania. Company projections show those products will be in some 4,000 stores by the end of this year. Still, the majority of Biery’s business is private label grocery chain — nearly 85 percent of sales.

Private label has been and will continue to be a very critical aspect of Biery’s business. But it’s making noise with its branded items. Ben says the company won an award this past year for its bacon-stuffed cheese and has developed a Fuego Jack cheese — a Colby Jack cheese with jalapenos and other hot pepper varieties.

A philosophy more than a name

The company, which was started by Ben’s great-grandfather in 1929 and produced Swiss cheese from area dairy farmers’ unsold milk, is now operating under its fourth-generation Biery. His father, Dennis Biery, who retired nearly seven years ago, had the ominous disposition of being the third-generation family ownership, the one that typically struggles to maintain the success of the business. But Ben says his dad’s strengths were determination and drive. He never settled.

When Ben joined the business in 2000, his father had grown the employee count from nine to 80, a jump that required the creation of significant infrastructure to manage. He was in charge of the company’s first acquisition, Casier Foods in New York, and developed a number of its products.

Dennis also developed the company’s employees, many who have worked with the company for a long time, before passing some of his philosophies on to Ben as the next generation of leadership.

“When I look at the business, I look at it as this is a business that my great-grandfather started,” he says. “Out of respect for him and the second generation, Harold, and the third generation, my responsibility is to continue this, and that should be my first obligation — to keep it going. The way that you do that is by developing people to help you through that. That’s really what has helped keep us in the four generations of making sure that that vision is aligned.”

As the company readies its potential shift to a fifth generation of Biery leadership —Ben’s children are ages 10 and 11 — Ben says he’s thinking about the transition.

“A Biery doesn’t necessarily have to run the business, but the philosophy of where we go and how we’ve gotten there continues,” he says.

 

Takeaways

  • Empower people in your organization to take ownership.
  • A company’s history is important to its future.
  • Identify your strengths and follow where they take you.