Berner Food and Beverage Inc.
Berner Food and Beverage Inc. (BFB) has been producing high-quality food and beverage products for 70 years. Utilizing a unique business plan with leading research and design, the business has developed strong manufacturing capabilities, catering to the needs of clients around the world.
“We are family-owned and –operated,” says Stephen Kneubuehl, CEO of BFB. “We started in 1943 as a small, mom and pop cheese factory in the Midwest. Over the next 30 years, we expanded. My brother and I both attended University of Wisconsin. He has a food science degree and I have an MBA in business. I was a CPA for a while and did a stint as an auditor before officially returning to the family business in 1976.”
All the while, BFB continued to grow, introducing new products for private label contracts. In the early ‘90s, the company’s Alpine Lace cheese gained popularity. BFB was the only supplier, meeting supermarket demand around the country for the low-sodium and reduced-fat cheese that had become a deli staple.
“Soon after that we added a process division for retail,” Stephen adds. “We started doing more private label production for retail clients. Our products include store brand cheese in a can, and a salsa con queso that was in competition with Tostitos brand dips. We went into beverage manufacturing soon after that. One of our biggest products was a frappacino in a glass bottle that went up against Starbucks brand items in the stores. We also do a lot of aluminum-canned beverages.”
Research and Development
The company continues to build a customer base with retail brands, as well as major labels. BFB has built major contracts with clients such as Campbell’s Soup and Monster Energy Drinks. “Our core competency is in anything that has to do with milk and dairy,” Stephen explains. “We know how to handle it. Dairy is a specialty niche and these products require a lot of respect for milk proteins and fats. They can be tricky to handle. We expose our dairy components to a high-pressure canning process called retort. If you can retort a milk product at 275 degrees for 30 to 60 minutes, drink it out of a can and have it still taste good, then that is quite a feat.”
To accommodate the technology and skills necessary to produce consistent, high-quality products, BFB utilizes an in-house research and development department. “For some of our private label products, we want to develop a food item or drink that emulates a brand name product,” Stephen explains. “We also often develop products for our national brand clients, under their label, from scratch. Usually they give us a basic recipe and we make it work. We still have to work our magic to create a good product.”
The result is a broad product line with customers across the globe. “Our sales are all over the place, including the U.S., the Middle East and export products to Korea, the Caribbean and Canada,” Stephen elaborates. “We are working on a private label brand that we plan to sell in China. We are not in every country, but our products get around quite a bit.”
Most recently, BFB has seen an increase in demand for nutritional, high-protein and energy drinks. One of the most interesting products the crew has produced is a specialty high-end coffee latte product developed for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from soldiers,” Stephen notes.
Strengthening the Production Line
The recent recession placed strain on all economic sectors, even the food business. “One of the biggest challenges was when we first started exploring beverage production in 2009,” Stephen explains. “We were right in the middle of a major expansion and had just invested millions of dollars in new equipment for our new production lines. That’s when the economy collapsed. We were in a tight spot for a while and our customers were less willing to take risks for a few years. We had to replace a majority of our financing after the credit shock in order to finish some of our products. It was expensive and we had to look for it all over the country. After all of that, I think we have emerged a stronger company.”
After learning to run lean, BFB has remained strong and efficient. While Stephen says there are still challenges to financing, the team is maintaining quality controls in all areas. “We make sure we can meet a certain margin,” he says. “We measure our sales and monitor emerging trends and markets where we could expand. For the next few years we want to keep diversifying our product line.” Slow improvements in the economy offer a positive outlook for the company. Focusing on steady and stable growth, Berner Food and Beverage Inc. will continue to develop unique products under several leading brands for international sale.