Cheesemakers Navigate Supply Chain

Exports are key part of the cheese business for Nasonville Dairy in Marshfield. Master Cheesemaker Ken Heiman exports cheese all over the U.S., China, Canada and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.

He says exports look good right now. And he praises the state for investing $5 million in DATCP to increase dairy, meat and other ag products by 25 percent within five years. Half of that money is directed specifically toward dairy. He says Wisconsin dairy farmers and processors are good enough to compete with the world in new markets rather than taking markets away from each other.

On the labor front, the workforce is looking good at Nasonville Dairy. However, Heiman says it’s getting harder and harder to hire new people no matter what he does with wages or benefits. Nearly half of his workforce is of either Mexican or Ukrainian decent. He says migrant labor is an opportunity for dairy processors to not only build their workforce, but bring in new style and flavor perspectives.

It’s the supply chain disruption that is causing Heiman grief — he calls it “an absolute nightmare.” Pails for feta cheese have more than doubled in cost. Other essential items impacted by inflation: salt, milk, cultures, anti-caking agents and pallets. He adds transportation is another “nightmare” as items get stuck on shipping containers for months.

With increased demand for cheese — and everything cheesemaking entails — he doesn’t foresee an end to supply chain disruption in 2022. However, Heiman does see silver linings of the COVID era, including TikTok. For example, a recipe calling for feta cheese went viral. That video ended up driving feta cheese sales, he explains. Heiman says producers have an opportunity to harness social media moving forward to influence consumers, even if it’s something as simple as recipe sharing.