Milk Marketing Board's new CEO excited about promoting state dairy industry

December 5, 2016

As the marketing guru for a Wisconsin cheese manufacturer, Chad Vincent became so impressed with the work ethic and professionalism of the milk and cheese producers he met around the state that he wanted to help them professionally if he ever got the chance.

That opportunity began last Thursday when the personable and energetic Vincent, 55, started his new job as the chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. This is an interesting and cool opportunity that you dont run across every day, Vincent said.

Directors from the Milk Marketing Board, a Madison-based nonprofit group funded by the states farmers to increase the sale and consumption of the states milk and dairy products, are saying the same thing about Vincent. Companies he helped grow because of his expertise pitching their products in national and international markets include Sartori, Miller Brewing, Fiskars and H.J. Heinz.

We are excited to see how he will improve upon the fantastic work our team has been doing, said Connie Seefeldt, the chairwoman of the organizations board of directors.

After joining Sartori in 2008, Vincent quickly changed the Plymouth-based cheese operations image as a food-service company by building a brand around its award-winning artisan cheeses.

The new brand included a radical label design change to the black-and-gold Sartori family crest that catches consumers eyes in the grocery store. Today, Sartori is known as a world-class cheese organization that has caught the attention of more than 40 countries that import its cheeses.

Jim Sartori, the CEO and third-generation owner of Sartori, called Vincent a great marketer and strategist and predicted that hell boost the Milk Marketing Board promotional efforts of the state dairy industry that accounts for $43.3 billion of Wisconsins $88.3 agricultural industry. Hell use his experience especially on the cheese side and be a good fit, Sartori said. Its a win-win.

Improvinga quality product

Vincent replaces former CEO James Robson, who resigned last April after the 25 dairy farmers who make up the organizations board of directors came out of a two-hour closed session and told him that they believed different leadership was needed to take the Milk Marketing Board in the direction they wanted it to go.

It came as quite a shock after 15 years, considering the progress weve made in terms of making WMMB relevant in dairy promotion, Robson told The Country Today.

His resignation occurred as milk prices were tumbling from record highs in 2014. Historically, when prices fall, the Milk Marketing Board has been a lightning rod for criticism by some farmers because 10 cents from every 100 pounds of milk sold is used for its promotional budget, which was $31 million in 2016.

But most of the news for the state dairy industry has been good news. For instance, while fluid milk and ice cream consumption is down among U.S. citizens, cheese, yogurt and butter consumption continues to rise and all dairy consumption is trending upward, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Milk Marketing Board backs up the USDA data with statistics showing the dominance of Wisconsin in U.S. cheese production and results from a survey that showed that cheese is the No. 1 food craving among Americans, even beating out chocolate.

Vincent agreed with board of director chairwoman Seefeldt that the Milk Marketing Board, which includes 55 full-time employees, has been doing quality work. He then said his task is to take it to the next level.

Robson made some bold decisions, such as turning away from generic advertising aimed at TV and radio that would have eaten up most of the organizations budget and toward hands-on promotions that focused on employees at grocery stores, schools and food-service businesses.

For instance, the Milk Marketing Board employs regional program managers across the state who arrange presentations for kids in schools about the importance of not only milk and dairy products in their diets, but to have an overall strong diet that includes fruits and vegetables. Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett sometimes makes the presentations.

Additionally, it employs regional marketing system managers in all corners of the country who work with grocery store and food-service managers and employees. They arrange for groups of them to meet the states well-educated and passionate milk and cheese producers and tour the state-of-the-art production, research and educational facilities in Wisconsin.

Vincent lauded the grass-roots strategy because statistics are showing those grocery store managers and employees are returning home and spreading the word about the quality of Wisconsins dairy products. The next level is, getting everybody in the country to get that same feeling so they can spread the word, too, he said.

It can be done because Vincent believes Wisconsins dairy industry, and its cheese industry in particular, have an abundance of quality subjects for the Milk Marketing Board to choose from to help sell their products.

Marketing is all about stories and weve got great stories to tell here, he said. There are so many good things about dairy. People want good, wholesome, real food and they want to know where it comes from. The path milk takes is on track for what consumers are looking for. Theres a lot going on here.

So when you say Wisconsin, people should not be thinking of anything but the best cheese and dairy in the world.

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The timing was perfect for Vincent to take the job. He lives in Waunakee with his wife, Wendy, and they became empty-nesters in August when their youngest of four children left for school.

It was the right thing to do, said Vincent, who added that he took a cut in pay to move from Sartori to the Milk Marketing Board. When you get a chance to stay here and really help the state and make a mark it was an easy choice to make.

Vincent grew up in East Lansing and earned an undergraduate degree in finance and an MBA in marketing and finance from Michigan State. His father, Warren, who grew up on a farm in Michigan, was an ag economics professor at the school.

Vincent proudly flies a Spartans flag in front of his home but he also speaks with pride about how his love for the state of Wisconsin that developed while working for some of its most successful companies.

He joined Miller Brewing in 1989 and directed its $2 billion Premium Brands portfolio.

When he wasnt working on campaigns with the National Football League, National Hockey League and NASCAR, he was flying overseas for campaigns in the Asia/Pacific marketing region. Vincent says he was gone from home about 225 days a year over a five-year period.

At Fiskars, which he joined in 2001, he initially worked out of its Portland office where he was the chief branding offer and president of the Outdoor Recreation Division at Gerber Outdoor Gear. He eventually was promoted and moved to Fiskars Madison office.

Between Miller and Fiskars, Vincent marketed A.J. Heinzs $500 million frozen food portfolio and has taught marketing classes at Marquette University.

Whatever the product, theres a message out there that can help the business, he said.

Even though Vincent was often traveling for his job, his four children saw how much fun he was having and chose to follow in his footsteps. His two oldest children already have careers in marketing and his two youngest children are planning to earn degrees in marketing.

When his oldest daughter, Sara, was asked why she chose marketing for a career, Vincent said her reply was, Ive been listening to this stuff my whole life.

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