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"We're basically the last manufacturer standing
for aerosol (cheese)," Kneubuehl said. "We're
like the aerosol (cheese) capital of the world
here in the cornfields of northern Illinois."
Private Label the Priority
Private labels and store brands are nothing
new to the food manufacturing and consumer
landscape. But the prevalence and popularity
of that portion of the marketplace has grown
significantly over the last two decades. Since
Berner was already involved in producing private
label and store brand products in the natural
cheese market, following that path with other
products was a somewhat natural outcome.
"The real store brand movement probably
began about 1995-96, slow at first, (an) initial
penetration of five, six, seven percent, not
really big, not really significant. Not until the
2000s — probably, 2003, 2004, 2005 — did
they really begin to take off and penetrate to the
20 percent or more level. So one of the things
I think we've enjoyed, and it's probably just a
timing thing, was we enjoyed riding the wave of
the growth of private brands," said Berner Vice
President of Sales Steve Fay, who noted that the
his company is involved with now have greater
than 20 percent market penetration in their
respective product groups.
"We always talk in terms of what is the
perfect balance, because there is symbiosis
between the national brand and the store brand
private label. The national brand having sufficient enough shares, efficient enough revenue
generation that they can basically lead the
category and they can bring prominence to the
category and bring attention to the category.
Meanwhile, you can view it as (national brands)
are the ski boat, and we are the skier behind."
Through its "Make it Yours" customer
program, Berner is able to take a customer's
concept for a dairy-based, shelf stable food
item or beverage item and develop a prototype
that can lead to full-scale production. Berner's
research and development team has the ability
to draw on national brand equivalent formulas
or create a proprietary formula specifically for
the customer. Berner also offers processing,
solutions for its
ness model for
private label is
you have your
— ours is in
— and we have just grown up with that,"
Kneubuehl said. "We have a really good R&D
department that excels in that. Anything that's
got milk, butter, whey protein, concentrated
milk or cheese we can do well, whether it is
a beverage or a shelf-stable product. We can
make those really well."
Berner currently has between 300-400 active
labels across its multiple product groups. A
workforce of approximately 300 employees
keeps product lines running 24 hours a day,
seven days a week. A recent weekday saw
three product lines being produced — an
aerosol cheese product, an alfredo sauce and a
protein energy drink.
Branching Into Beverage
While cheese products, dips and sauces have
long been staples of Berner's product portfolio,
the company's foray into beverage products is a
relatively recent one.
A beverage initiative was undertaken in 2008
and started with some iced latte and coffee