The cow factor
A multi-generational family business, Superior Dairy has been producing milk and dairy products for customers across the USA for close to a century
Located in Canton, Ohio, Superior Dairy is widely regarded to be the largest independently owned dairy processor east of the Mississippi River. Naturally, things weren’t always that way, but though the company has grown and adapted through the years, Superior Dairy has always remained loyal to its Ohio roots and nationwide clientele.
Best known for providing high quality fluid milk products, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and chip dip, Superior Dairy private labels for many of its customers, meaning that millions of consumers enjoy its consistent and flavorful products, without necessarily knowing the Superior name. Distributing its products to stores across 44 states, Superior Dairy counts Costco, Aldi, and Sam’s Club among its top customers.
Much of Superior Dairy’s recent growth can be traced back to the year 2000, when the company launched major technological developments across all aspects of the business. CEO Greg Soehnlen suggests that the overhaul marked the point where Superior Dairy transformed from a small regional player into a national distributor of milk products.
“At Superior Dairy, we understand that the food and beverage industry is constantly changing and we are not afraid to change with it,” Greg remarks. “We are ultimately known for our food and dairy products, but we are driven by a really strong focus on manufacturing, technology, and logistics. We are capable of speedy mass production from a small capacity footprint and the technologies we use in the dairy space support our infrastructure, as well as the logistics of moving our product in a low-cost manner.
“Some of the internal technologies we possess include flexible filling, which is where we blend and standardize milk in a bottle – rather than in a more traditional tank – so we can have a really fast, high rate of order fulfillment with our customers, from a small space,” Greg adds. “When it comes to shipping, we are big proponents of caseless systems. This is where we ship products without using extraneous milk cases. Essentially, everything ships in one direction; nothing is returned. In recent years, we have even been able to develop different palletizing methods and systems to support the unique requirements of each of our customers’ operations. If you look at our work with Costco or Sam’s Club, they all have a palletizing format that we have to create and follow as we integrate with their respective operations. It’s what allows us to ship milk to 44 states.”
When it comes to innovation and product development, Superior Dairy benefits from the services of its sister company, Creative Edge. Specialists in adding value and reducing costs for its clients, Creative Edge is a think tank engineering company with a strategy to improve and innovate on customer supply chains across a variety of areas, from raw ingredients to delivery. In an industry with low margins that can make investment in new ideas or concepts challenging, Creative Edge utilizes years of dairy experience, manufacturing knowledge, engineering, an internal fabrication shop, and industry contacts, to help solve customer problems and replace them with real-life solutions.
“Working with Creative Edge, we meet with our customers, and they can be from retail or a parallel industry to us, it could be somebody on our supply or vendor side of the business, but we work together to create new solutions to some of their problems. In the same way, Creative Edge also provides ways to stop our costs from going up or things of that nature,” Greg reveals. “They are a really solid engineering group that has a very different approach when it comes to creating a business model.”
Having invested more than $25 million into the business over a three-year period to help grow company infrastructure, Superior Dairy plans to continue with the expansion of its production facilities this year – a project that will result in the creation of around 125 new jobs. The development of the site will allow the company to add new aseptic processes and packaging lines that will enable Superior Dairy to expand into new markets. In the coming years, the firm also hopes to implement new manufacturing lines, which will facilitate growth in the company’s cottage cheese and cream product lines, as well as the addition of a new caseless line.
Despite all the new technology, at its core, Superior Dairy will always be a business about people. Led by the fourth generation of the Soehnlen family – and with a number of fifth generation family members at work in the production plant – the company is firmly a family affair. No matter how large the business grows, Greg says, its founding values and family culture will always come first.
“We have a really big group of family members in the fourth generation and they are very passionate about the family, its history, and its future,” he explains. “They all have very different skillsets and talents, and they all work in different positions. They are not all in leadership roles, but they are in important positions in the company. We fill some of the leadership roles with non-family members as well and it is this great integration of talent and values and passion in the business that keeps us moving forward.”
In less than two years’ time, Superior Dairy will celebrate its 100th anniversary. A momentous achievement for any business, Greg suggests that the milestone would not have been attainable without the hard work and passion exhibited by the Soehnlen family over the ten preceding decades.
“Our family values have always spurred us on,” he declares. “We are very passionate about our business and integrating those family values into a business setting. We are very strong, hardworking people and we aren’t afraid to try new things and work to get into the market. These are just some of the inbuilt attributes that our family brings to the table.
“I like to talk about us as being a really edgy company. For me, that is what is great about Superior Dairy. We are very lean, as far as management teams go, and we can make some very quick decisions. As a business, especially compared to our competition, we can turn on a dime. Attributes like that keep us very, very competitive in the marketplace.”
By no means reserved for blood relatives, the family culture at Superior Dairy extends to the company’s workforce and local community. In keeping with this spirit, the firm has continued to hire staff throughout 2020’s Covid-19 pandemic in order to support Canton and the greater Ohio area. Ranging from technical positions to accounting, equipment operators to truck loaders, Superior Dairy is aiming to hire around 40 new team members this year and will look to enroll them into the business in line with the strict health and safety procedures it has in place to protect against Coronavirus.
As we head towards the final quarter of what has been a difficult year for many businesses across the globe, Superior Dairy is not only keen to show appreciation for its staff, but also for its vast network of partners. “So much of our success comes from our support partners,” Greg comments. “We have a really strong strategic relationship with companies like Serac, who has been a great partner for us and I think that, especially in a year like this, it’s important to let them know just how instrumental they have been to our success. On behalf of Superior Dairy, I would like to thank them all.”
With a focus on flexibility and adaptability, Superior Dairy hopes to blend modern methods with family values to help guide the company on its path to future success. Alongside the anniversary celebrations lingering on the horizon, in the next few years the firm aims not to build a portfolio of products, but a portfolio of capabilities that will enable the business to continue serving its customers for decades to come.
“As our consumers evolve and change, we want to be able to evolve and change with them,” Greg asserts. “We are planning on expanding into new product processes and with that, we will be able to satisfy new trends and markets. One area we are very interested in is dairy protein, plant protein, and the combination of the two. We are going to see these proteins growing together in really unique ways as we witness a new battle for the consumer stomach.”