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Small town co-op marks century of success

The year is 1908. For the first time, the New Year is celebrated with a ball dropping in Times Square. Henry Ford begins selling what will become millions of Americans' first car, the Model T. And a group of farmers in Bongards, Minn. form a dairy cooperative.

Seventy-two farmers started Bongards' Creameries for one very practical reason - it was too far to haul milk to the nearest creamery. Instead, these farmers would bring their whole milk to the co-op and receive 80 percent back in the form of skim milk, while the rest was used for producing cream and butter.

But just like the ball in Times Square and the Ford Motor Company, Bongards' Creameries has seen many changes over the past 100 years. For the co-op, the biggest and most important changes were the decisions to start producing cheese and whey powder.

"Cheese and whey powder turned this small town co-op into an internationally-recognized leader in the industry," says Keith Grove, General Manager of Bongards' Creameries. "Last year, we reported $350 million in sales, and we are looking at another strong year in 2008."

While only regional grocery stores carry Bongards' branded cheese, most people in America have probably enjoyed its products.

"Only about 2 percent of our business is our retail brand," says Grove. "We mostly create private label cheese products for some of the leading brands in addition to providing cheese to restaurants nationwide."

A majority of the business at Bongards' Creameries is focused on foodservice and food processing for its cheese and whey powder products. Grove looks to continue growing the company by focusing on adding value through new product development and state-of-the-art processes. He credits the co-op's longevity to its flexibility to respond to the needs of patrons and customers - that and Jack Budahn.B.E. "Jack" Budahn. No one, including him, knows how B.E. Budahn got the nickname "Jack," but that's how everyone knew him. And that's how he will always be remembered, in Bongards and throughout the dairy industry.

Budahn was hired in 1938 when Bongards' Creameries' founding general manager, Fred Hedtke, retired.

At the time, the co-op was struggling and the expectation was that Budahn would eventually buy the farmers out. However, Budahn was able to quickly turn the company around and the board decided not to sell, which is what Budahn had hoped for when taking the helm.

It was Budahn who led the co-op into the cheese and whey powder business. In fact, he developed a great deal of the technology, and some machinery still holds his patents. Budahn was ahead of his time, and many news stories have been written through the years crediting his innovation and passion.

Not only did Budahn make the co-op successful, but for many years, Bongards' Creameries was the world's largest cheese plant under one roof.

Jack Budahn passed away in 1997, but his innovative approach lives on through Bongards' Creameries.

Looking Forward

The future looks bright for Bongards' Creameries. Bongards' continues to add new product lines to its portfolio and the business is expanding both domestically and internationally.

"The increasing global demand for food products presents a growing opportunity for a progressive cheese manufacturer like Bongards'," says Grove.

Bongards' Creameries continues to look for growth opportunities in processed cheese products and plans to partner with additional companies for private label offerings. There are also plans to increase technical services to develop additional innovative, state-of-the-art custom-tailored products.

The co-op will be celebrating a century of success with several celebrations planned throughout the year.

To learn more about Bongards' Creameries and its products, visit