When it comes to national recognition, Wisconsin dairy farmers tend to hold their head high in knowing their industry shaped the state’s reputation.
It’s no surprise that when you travel to another state, you can often see “proudly made in Wisconsin” on a wrapper for dairy products such as cheese.
For Springside Cheese of Oconto Falls, staying close to that Wisconsin heritage is behind the company’s continued success.
In 1973, Wayne R. Hintz and his family purchased a small cheese factory that began with 60 dairy farmers supplying 17,000 pounds of milk each day and two employees. The company is now owned by Wayne’s two sons, Keith and Nathan, and employs between 30 and 35 employees.
Producing 1.5 million pounds of cheese per year, there continues to be plenty of growth opportunities for the company, though it finds value in remaining a small business.
“We are a smaller producer since most of the larger producers are producing 1.5 million or more pounds in a single day,” says Keith Hintz, co-owner and president of Springside Cheese.
Springside Cheese sells to several companies that repackage and distribute its products in Wisconsin, Texas and the Southeast. The company also sells directly to restaurants, convenience and specialty stores and larger grocery stores throughout eastern Wisconsin and southeastern Colorado.
Springside Cheese purchases its milk directly from seven small family farms in Northeast Wisconsin, including Red Barn Family Farms, which is headquartered in Appleton.
In 2011, the company expanded its roots and opened up a retail location in Pueblo, Colo., where Keith and his family currently reside. The core business remains in Wisconsin under his brother’s watchful eye.
“The move to Colorado for me was initiated because I met my wife who lives out here and decided that this was the place we wanted to live and raise our family,” Hintz says.
But the move for him didn’t mean cutting ties with the business or the Wisconsin heritage.
“To continue the family business and generate income, we opened up a retail shop here and our goal is to start making cheese here as well,” Hintz says. “People here are familiar with cheese of course, but the daily use and the connection with the farm is not there and that is why we are keeping our production facilities in Wisconsin.”
The business’ success, and the success of dairy and cheese manufacturers, are derived from the state’s history and geography, he says, as well as state policies that were more supportive of the industry.
“There is such a stronger, more immediate connection to the industry and that results through government support,” Hintz says. “The government in Wisconsin helps connect customers to the dairy industry and its farmers and that isn’t so true anywhere else in the country.”
For example, Springside Cheese was recently highlighted in a food tour campaign sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
The company’s ongoing success is explained in always pushing the innovation envelope, Hintz says.
The company says it bases its overall mission on integrity, which is its No. 1 priority, and wants to get people excited to eat cheese.
While Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently made headlines saying he has eliminated dairy from his diet as part of a nutrition program to extend his career, Hintz says that is a false representation for the dairy and cheese industry.
Hintz says the company only produces products that he feels safe serving to his own children.
“Our goal is to find products that can accurately represent and meet the ongoing request from customers and help them understand the source of the products they consume,” Hintz says.
The company now offers an all-natural replacement for American processed cheese with its Krakow cheese. It has the same milking capabilities similar to cheese on hamburgers and on store shelves, but it doesn’t oil off like cheddar sometimes will.
“We want to appeal to a broad consumer base so people can have an all-natural alternative to an all-processed product and it is something we feel safe about feeding our children,” Hintz says. “The ongoing knowledge of the benefits of raw milk and grass-fed milk and organic are the areas we are pushing to further develop.”
The company is also offering incentives to the dairies providing its milk and encouraging more all-natural methods.
“Even though we are not certified organic yet, we are working with some of our farms to get that certification,” Hintz says.
“We’ve adjusted our payment program to encourage a more natural product and we have incentives now for products that are grass-fed and incentives for organic and non-GMO and that is what we are really striving for.”