Q&A with Director of Business Development at Crystal Farms

Crystal Farms Comes First When it Comes to Cheese

Dairy, and particularly cheese, is a mainstay in the grocery store and always a highlight of any food focused event. With Americans consuming 12.9 billion pounds of cheese in 2019, one of the most recognizable brands throughout the US market is Crystal Farms. This is a brand that has continuously maintained an excellent quality of product while innovating to suit evolving tastes and diets. Across the board from blocks, shreds, slices, snack and crumbles, to ricotta, cream cheese and now their new wraps, there is no shortage of creativity and purpose behind creating great dairy products from locally sourced dairy farmers.

From 1920s to 2020s… a Century of Growth 

It all started back when two farmers that had immigrated from Russia started independent businesses. One focused on produce while the other focused on eggs. Merging in the 1970s under the banner of Crystal Farms, the company sold eggs, cheese, and dairy.  Originally acquired by Michael Foods in 1987, Crystal Farms was brought into the folds of one of the leading food and beverage companies in the United States, Post Holdings, when they acquired Michael Foods in 2014.

Q&A with Chris Schleper

We sat down with Chris Schleper, the Director of Business Development at Crystal Farms, who has been working in sales and trade management throughout his career, with experience at Target, General Mills and now Crystal Farms.

Q: What brought you to Crystal Farms?

A:  Coming from larger companies like Target and General Mills, Crystal Farms offered an exciting mix of agility and legacy. We have the nimbleness of a startup, brand loyalty and recognition of a 100-year-old brand and the support of a great company like Post Holdings. I had the opportunity to help build out the trade team, implement a new trade management system and start moving our sales organization to a more revenue focused mindset.

Q: So what brought on the search for a TPM platform?

A: The trade system originally implemented at Crystal Farms was very custom in its design. As we continued to grow, issues arose with the need to constantly re-code the software to make sure all the custom designs worked with the newest security requirements. Over time, we realized that we weren’t using the system to its fullest extent, nor would we be able to without a complete overhaul. It was at that point we decided to look at what other options might be available to us.

Q: How did you hear about UpClear?

A:  We discovered UpClear originally through an industry whitepaper, and during our RFP process UpClear was put on the shortlist as it met our criteria concerning the amount of promotions, estimated revenue and number of users. Ironically enough, our sister company, Premier Nutrition, was also looking for a platform at that time and we both ended up independently selecting UpClear’s BluePlanner.

Q: What were some of the key factors that led to the decision to select UpClear BluePlanner?

A: The biggest factor was usability for our sales team. We needed a system that was easy to use, quick to learn and efficient in the amount of time required to create an annual plan. We have continued to increase our sales team’s responsibilities in regard to revenue management, so ease of use was paramount for us to gain acceptance and buy-in. Visibility was another key factor, as we learned the hard way that a trade management system without adequate reporting was of little use to our organization going forward.

Q: How has the use of a TPM Platform supported the growth of Crystal Farms?

A: The system we were coming from made it tough on our sales team. The interface was clunky, older and tough to navigate. We had very little in the way of usable reports and the task of creating a promotional plan was very cumbersome. With BluePlanner, we were able to solve all of those issues and then some. The interface looks great and is easy to navigate, in-house reporting is quick and useful and building promotions is incredibly efficient. Right now, our sales team is currently working on building out their annual plans for next fiscal. The ability to create a promotion quickly and copy it for subsequent iterations has been a game changer, easily cutting our planning time in half. The reporting capabilities are quick and allows our account managers to easily see the volume they are forecasting and whether the plan they are creating is feasible and within budget.   While our past system was really relegated to more of a deduction clearing tool, BluePlanner has truly become a strategic growth management tool for us.

Q: What is on the horizon for Crystal Farms? Products, initiatives, key business goals for 2021?

A: Looking ahead, we are focused on ensuring that our sales team is able to drive the right promotions, at the right price and at the right time to drive growth for both our brand and our retail partners. BluePlanner has helped us maximize the effectiveness of our trade budget and we look forward to continuing to utilize this system for our trade management process.

For our brand, Farm and Family are at the heart of everything we do, which is why we support family farms throughout the Heartland by sourcing our dairy from Midwest farms. We believe sourcing from family-owned dairy farms helps us deliver the quality cheese our customers deserve. This year, we are happy to announce our partnership with Associated Milk Producers Inc., a dairy farmer-owned cooperative. This collaboration is a big step toward our goals of sourcing exclusively from family farms in the Heartland and continuing to bring our customers high-quality cheese that is truly Co-op Crafted. Over the next year, we are excited to continue to support local dairy farms in the Midwest, as well as drive innovation in the cheese category with products like our new Cheese Wraps.

As we wrap this client story, we are excited to share that UpClear and Crystal Farms will be joining forces again for an upcoming webinar on the promotional lifecycle for the dairy category. Crystal Farms will be on the guest panel.