BelGioioso named US dairy industry’s Exporter of the Year

l-r: Frank Alfaro, vice president of export sales at BelGioioso Cheese; Errico Auricchio, president of BelGioioso Cheese, and Daren Primoli, founder of Tropical Foods. (Pic: USDEC)

Wisconsin US-based cheese maker BelGioioso has been named Exporter of the Year by the US dairy industry.

In 1979, Errico Auricchio left Italy with his wife and young children to craft specialty cheeses with the same artisan methods his family had used for 100 years.

“The idea was to start a cheese company in America, find a good manager and go back to Italy,” Auricchio said.

A manager was never found, so Auricchio stayed in the United States to become the manager, president and CEO of BelGioioso Cheese Inc.

Over four decades, Auricchio has built a cheese company with more than 700 employees making more than 30 varieties of specialty cheeses, for America, and export to 45 countries.

These and other accomplishments have made BelGioioso the 2019 Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year. The award is presented annually by Dairy Foods magazine and sponsored by the US Dairy Export Council in honor of Camerlo, a former USDEC chairman.

The Dairy Foods Exporter of the Year must be a US dairy supplier that:

  • Exemplifies leadership in advancing US dairy exports.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to export market development.
  • Makes exports an integral part of its overall growth strategy.

In a letter to Auricchio, Dairy Foods magazine said it chose BelGioioso as its 2019 honoree because:

  • The company has grown its export activities substantially since the mid-1990s, now exporting to 45 countries.
  • BelGioioso’s strategic partnership with Tropical Foods helps it target key markets, including the Middle East/North Africa.
  • The company has helped USDEC design its cheese activities to meet the needs of specialty US cheesemakers, encouraging more of them to consider exports.
  • BelGioioso has led efforts to preserve the right to use common cheese names around the world with Auricchio serving as chairman of the Consortium for Common Food Names.
  • The company has found a way to export fresh mozzarella as its No. 1 product at a time when many foreign buyers insist on longer-shelf-life products.

Exporting with patience 

BelGioioso’s relationship with Miami-based Tropical Foods as its distributor opened up global opportunities, and exports now comprise about 6% of BelGioioso’s sales.

“The goal is definitely to increase that percentage,” said Auricchio. “But it takes a long-term investment. You don’t want to go too fast. The consumer should know your brand, know your quality. You need to establish a relationship with a good distributor. You don’t want to do this overnight.”

In China, cheese has not been part of the traditional diet but Chinese consumers are discovering and falling in love with it. The potential upside is huge.

An ongoing trade war featuring retaliatory tariffs between the US and Chinese governments has made exporting cheese to China far more expensive for US suppliers.

When Costco opened its first China store in August, BelGioioso provolone was on display, selling out in one day, thanks in part to a relationship brokered by USDEC with Costco.

Protecting common cheese names 

In his role as chairman of the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN), Auricchio works closely with CCFN executive director and USDEC senior vice president Jaime Castaneda to protect cheese and other food names in the public domain.

For years, the European Union has moved to give geographical indications (GIs) to common cheese names like provolone, parmesan, mozzarella and feta.

Auricchio and the CCFN support the proper use of GIs for specialised foods from particular regions, for example, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, but oppose any attempts that would force farmers and food producers outside of Europe to rebrand familiar foods with unfamiliar names.

The new agreement brokered by CCFN provides greater support for robust protection in the United States and around the world for the name Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. The agreement protects Mozzarella di Bufala Campana as a product originating from parts of Italy but establishes the free use of the generic term “mozzarella.” The deal is a win-win, says Auricchio, because the agreement provides clarity while reducing expensive court battles, enabling cheesemakers to get on with the business of making cheese.

Read Errico Auricchio’s full story here

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