Valley Bakers Cooperative Association

Bringing bakers together in a common marketplace for rising success
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

Since 1949, when Frances E. Quigley united a small group of local bakers to help them source ingredients, Valley Bakers Cooperative Association (VBCA) has been helping to maximize small business success. Based in Greenville, Wisconsin, VBCA’s cooperative model is a recipe for creating more value for stakeholders through market leadership, operational excellence and deep business resources across all channels — supply chain, storage and inventory, logistics and transport, credit and a range of other business needs.

Shared challenges, unified interest

“The initial interest of Quigley and the founding members at the time was to get more control over the supply chain,” shares Mark Munroe, president and CEO of VBCA. “Some ingredients were expensive and hard to find after World War II so they joined together with just a handful of founding members. They created the bylaws and structure of the co-op. In fact, we remain true to the fundamentals of this cooperative business form today. We still have the same stock share purchase — which is unheard of. At the time it was $500 for stock shares and it’s become more of a symbolic number.”

VBCA now has 400 members and more than 1,200 locations throughout Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, supported by 165 employees. “We also operate a trucking company that goes throughout the greater Midwest,” notes Munroe, who has been CEO since 2001. “And we have a freight brokerage company [in particular dairy freight] running coast to coast and we also have a Bakery Direct division, which is a coast-to-coast e-marketplace. There are several businesses we operate that mesh within our co-op and they were all born out of trying to better serve our members.”

Much more than a baker’s dozen

Munroe says VBCA exists because anyone in the professional baking business needs a lot of supplies and materials — everything from staples such as flour, sugar, oil and eggs to fillings and icing, kitchen accessories and packaging — there are many factors in the equation. Under the VBCA umbrella are five divisions to support all facets of a baker’s business: Valley Baker’s Supply, specializing in customized service and delivery of food ingredients, products and packaging; Valley Cold Transit and Storage, offering cold storage and inventory management; Valley Logistics Solutions, the complete supply chain partner with access to freight services, warehousing and inventory; Bakery Direct, an online platform that connects bakers and suppliers, providing efficient purchasing, invoicing and improved cash flow; and Savings Direct, which provides programs and services that help small-business owners reduce the cost of doing business.

“Bakery Direct is an interesting facet of the business because we’ve created a secure marketplace where buyers and sellers can interact,” explains Munroe. “Although our distribution area is in the upper Midwest, with Bakery Direct we can do business anywhere. We’re very traditional here — we work with lots of family, third- and fourth-generation businesses, but we’re finding that the next generation is taking over and they’re not going to do business the same way and we’re ahead of the game. We are just rolling this out in the last year, but the idea has been in the works for several years.”

“We’re very excited about Bakery Direct,” adds Munroe. “Bakers from around the country can order products and combine credit terms with all of their suppliers, not just one and do it all from an e-marketplace. We’re putting the power back in the hand of the retailer. Our goal is to create a trusted marketplace with a lot of ease in terms of use.”

Recent rebranding and expansion

With so many sides of the business — all of which are growing in member support services — VBCA felt it was important to revitalize and organize under Valley Companies as part of a recent rebranding effort. “This will be more than a three-year process from beginning to end,” says Munroe. “The rebranding under Valley Companies is a nod to our history, our evolution and the future. We’re keeping the Valley name front and center and the wheat logo. We wanted to maintain these aspects because they’re part of our history. But now each company has its own logo and the branding is much more in tune with each individual division.”

VBCA is expanding its marketing efforts, as well as facilities, with a multiphase plan ready to break ground. “Currently, we have 15 acres here in Greenville and the next two phases of a substantial expansion include multitemperature storage and a two-story office addition,” says Munroe. “We just remodeled our main office in 2006, along with more dry warehousing space.”

Munroe says expansion has been a part of the plan for VBCA even through the recession. “We’ve grown our facilities significantly and we weathered it quite well, mainly due to our structure,” he says. “Through the recession, we lost very few members, because we have a loyal group including many third- and fourth-generation, independently owned companies.”

Munroe says this point is central to VBCA and why the organization has seen such success. “Our shareholders are also owners — from mom-and-pop shops to large corporations,” he says. “We have a great cooperative business group and culture overall. There’s longevity in our relationships.”

Since 1949, Valley Bakers Cooperative Association has been working on the recipe for success, helping hundreds of professional bakers while supporting tradition, enhancing small business and local communities.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Barry Callebaut