Superior Dairy brings 100 years of entrepreneurship to MMPA through recent acquisition.
Just southwest of Canton, Ohio, one unassuming plant has sparked change within the dairy industry. Known for the unique cubic shaped milk gallons, Superior Dairy has taken what we know about traditional dairy products and traditional packaging and transformed them to build greater opportunities. And as of the start of 2022, these innovations, this business and these opportunities are now part of the MMPA family.
Building on a partnership formed seven years ago, Superior Dairy, along with two other LEL Operating Company subsidiaries (Creative Edge Design Group, Ltd., and LEL Logistics, Inc.), recently became wholly owned subsidiaries of MMPA.
“Our intent is for this acquisition to drive change and bring greater value to member-owners. Bringing Superior Dairy into the MMPA family will be a continuation of the course we have charted toward business development and innovation,” MMPA President and CEO Joe Diglio said.
With drive and determination as signature attributes for Superior Dairy, the acquisition will further inject this change into MMPA.
“When most industries start to change, others will hit that little bump and stop. We find a way to continue to change, grow and drive. That’s the best part about this whole company,” Greg Soehnlen, who served as president and CEO of LEL Operating Company prior to the acquisition, said. With LEL Operating Company subsidiaries now under the MMPA umbrella, Greg Soehnlen has joined the MMPA leadership team as Chief Operating and Business Development Officer.
A Century of Entrepreneurship
Founded in 1922, Superior Dairy will turn 100 years old in 2022 and was up until recently a family-owned business. Greg Soehnlen’s father, Dan, was Board Chairman of LEL Operating Company and is part of the third generation leading the business. He attributes the growth and success of Superior Dairy to the family’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“Our business comes from a very entrepreneurial background. Back in the early part of the last century, my grandfather came over from Alsace- Lorraine in France to start making brandy,” Dan Soehnlen said.
Then prohibition came and the brandy- making business ground to a halt. After watching his business go down the drain, Dan Soehnle’s grandfather, Joseph, made a crucial pivot to dairy.
“In order to feed his family, he made a business deal with local farmers and got himself a small pasteurizer and small set of bottles and horse and wagon. That was the start of Superior Dairy,” Dan Soehnlen said.
Through most of the twentieth century, Superior Dairy operated as a traditional dairy servicing Northeast Ohio. They produced the standard milk gallons, half gallons and ice cream and novelty products. Then in 2002, Superior Dairy launched their first innovation:
the caseless gallon.
“Being the entrepreneurs we are as a family, we said there needs to be a better way for the industry. And that’s when Greg became heavily involved in the business. We started this inventive business model that has led to a break in success for Superior Dairy,” Dan Soehnlen said.
Greg Soehnlen said the company was faced with competing against much larger companies within the industry and decided to create a new business model. “That’s where we developed caseless shipping and flexible filling, without a milk crate, to ship milk quite a bit further. We expand our territory from the traditional 200-mile radius to a 2,000-mile radius,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing today.”
Today, Superior Dairy products can be found in 44 states and includes gallons and half gallons of milk, buttermilk, sour cream, cottage cheese, ice cream and decorated ice cream cakes. Most of their products are produced as private label, which means they are sold at retail under the brand names of other companies. Even if the name “Superior Dairy” isn’t on the label, their products can be identified with plant code 39-13.
Building Success through Innovation
Greg Soehnlen says they are able to service a large territory and stand out in the marketplace through innovation. With over 45 patents under their name, Superior Dairy had developed unique processes and transformed their manufacturing operations, from the way the bottle is produced to how they fill and palletize.
Creative Edge, another former LEL Operating Company subsidiary joining MMPA, develops and designs the innovations by operating a strategic think tank.
“We’re always looking out one, five and 10 years. We massage that business model through the innovation cycle. We like to have lofty vision about where we want to see the industry go. Then we communicate that vision to our customers, so they see where we’re going,” Greg Soehnlen said.
Brad Parks, president of Creative Edge, says he works with operations, distribution and all functions of the business to execute new innovations for Superior Dairy. “I am charged with taking Greg’s crazy ideas and finding a way to implement them in a way we make money at the end of the day,” Parks said. “We like to work with our customers and really take an idea to market.”
Superior Dairy’s customers are primarily retailers, including membership-only retail warehouses. Greg Soehnlen says their relationships with customers is not a traditional buy-sell relationship. “There’s an element of progressiveness, element of partnership and element of innovation and change we try to bring to the customers,” he said.
A Future with MMPA
Superior Dairy and MMPA forged a strong partnership over nearly seven years of working together. Combining forces with the acquisition will create a larger, stronger organization with a collective team of 625 employees, four manufacturing locations and a united approach to market member milk.
“Throughout our relationship with Superior Dairy, I have worked alongside Greg to develop synergies between our two organizations. Together, we identified that MMPA and Superior Dairy are united on how we want to go to market, our core values are aligned, and we are committed to the same vision,” Diglio said.
Greg Soehnlen says he sees the alignment evident in how the teams of the two organizations have come together. “When you get our senior team and MMPA’s senior team together, you see the mesh and integration. That is one key thing that I was always say is very important for us to continue to drive. The second thing is MMPA’s farm staff and our field staff, our quality department and MMPA’s quality department are very connected and aligned,” he said.
“Blending MMPA leadership with Greg and the team from Superior Dairy will enable MMPA to create new and innovative opportunities for our combined business,” Diglio said.
For Parks, high quality milk continues to be crucial in making it all work. “Everything starts with the milk and the high quality, which MMPA is known for. That’s what attracted us to MMPA was high-quality milk. We like to say we’ve got nothing without milk. We recognize that that as a key thing, that it starts with quality dairy products,” he said.
Looking ahead, Greg Soehnlen is looking forward to bringing in key customers through the combined organization. “We’ll get hot and heavy on customer growth and product growth. We are going to integrate customers to what we know and what MMPA has to offer. In the process
of bringing food from the farm to consumer, we’ll close that loop in a highly powerful way,” he said.
Dan Soehnlen says he see the acquisition as a great opportunity to build on his family’s success. “To be part of MMPA is like the dream of an entrepreneur,” he said. “MMPA is just what this company needs to team up with to be very, very strong. We can be national—not just Michigan and Ohio—national. We’re in 44 states today, there’s no reason we can’t be in 50.”
This article was originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »