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Gilman Cheese Grows its Workforce and Capacity to Meet Customer Needs

Gilman Cheese supplies the gift pack, retail and airline industries, and donates its product to disaster-relief efforts. 

Wisconsin is known as “America’s Dairyland,” producing more than 2.5 billion pounds of cheese annually. Nestled in the north-central part of the state in Gilman, Wis., Gilman Cheese uses all-natural ingredients to produce more than 100 different flavor profiles of processed cheese that it says is of higher quality than the competition.

“We believe processed cheese should taste like cheese,” Executive Vice President of Sales and Procurement Dave Schafer says. Gilman Cheese makes its processed cheese by blending natural cheeses such as cheddar, Monterey Jack and Havarti with premium ingredients and cooking it to pasteurization. Its processed cheese has the flavor of natural cheese with the added benefit of an extended shelf life, he says.

Gilman Cheese’s portfolio includes sizes from a 0.75-ounce plank to a 42-pound block in shelf-stable cheese, smoked cheeses, 5-pound deli loaves, fat-free or reduced fat cheese products, as well as organic and kosher cheese. The company supplies the gift pack, retail and airline industries, as well as donates its product to disaster-relief efforts. 

“Whenever there is a natural disaster, protein is very important and one ounce of our cheese is equivalent to one ounce of a meat protein,” Schafer explains. “Our products can be made to be refrigerated or shelf-stable, with our shelf-stable offerings being critical in natural disaster areas because refrigerated products aren’t the easiest to maintain during that time.”

Overall in the markets it serves, “We are seeing change occur at a much more rapid pace than we have seen historically,” Schafer says, speaking of this trend last year. “Things are happening much quicker in terms of customer demand and them needing things right away. We have seen demand spike substantially, and we are running double the production compared to last year. We also added a second shift this year to stay strong in that respect.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Gilman Cheese utilized two batch cookers during one daily shift that allowed it to manufacture up to 1,400 pounds of cheese every few minutes. On a typical day, the company would produce 120,000 pounds of processed cheese in 15 to 20 different flavors. The relatively small, rapidly produced batches allow the company to stay flexible in meeting the varied needs of its customers. By adding a second shift this year, the company has doubled its output. 

During the pandemic, Gilman Cheese has increased client communication and added Zoom meetings with its customers to ensure all needs are being met. “With all the craziness we are seeing, I want to make sure they’re ready for whatever comes their way,” Schafer notes. Gilman Cheese also doubled its customer service team.

Making Smart Moves

In response to the increased demand, Gilman Cheese has onboarded about 120 employees, doubling the size of its workforce.

“Managing the pandemic is not just the result of it and having people out sick, but trying to reassure our people and deal with the fears they have,” Schafer explains. “We have been working through those types of issues with our staff.”

Gilman Cheese implemented a full mask policy in its plant and keeps teams of people together to reduce increased exposure to others. For example, the teams work together as one unit in the plant and stay together in shared spaces such as the break room.

Moving forward, Gilman Cheese plans to find new markets to expand and new customers to serve.

“One thing we are focused on is solidifying short-term gains into long-term opportunities,” Schafer says. “We supply to customers across the country, and we have been able to step up and meet demand amid the pandemic while offering excellent customer service. We take customer service very seriously and are seeing great success.”