Alto Dairy Cooperative and Land O'Lakes, Inc. today announced the formation of a cheese marketing joint venture, bringing together the commodity cheddar and mozzarella sales teams and marketing efforts of the two companies.

Officials of Alto and Land O'Lakes said the focus of the new venture, a Marketing Agency in Common (MAC), will be to enhance customer service, expand product offerings, reduce costs and provide customers with national product sourcing.

"This joint venture is also based on our common dedication to operational efficiency and customer focus," said Land O'Lakes President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Gherty. "It will enable us to leverage the combined resources and expertise of our two organizations to reduce costs and enhance service to our commodity cheese customers."

"Customers can expect a wider selection of product offerings, more efficient delivery and an even broader range of technical support and services," added Alto President and General Manager Larry Lemmenes. "We will capture the efficiency of a combined sales force and coordinated delivery system, as well as enable our customers to benefit from a national sourcing and distribution system."

The cooperative leaders added that the marketing alliance recognizes the intensely competitive and rapidly consolidating dairy foods marketplace, Land O'Lakes and Alto's commitment to customers and the two companies' complimentary geography and product lines. The joint venture applies only to the marketing of commodity cheddar and mozzarella and does not involve value-added products.

Gherty and Lemmenes said the MAC also reflects the two organizations' shared confidence in, and commitment to, the Wisconsin dairy industry.

"Both our organizations have deep roots in Wisconsin and confidence in the ability of the state's dairy producers to compete long-term," Gherty said. "We are committed to helping the state's dairy producers compete successfully in the highly competitive, 21st century marketplace."

"Recent years have seen Wisconsin realize steady growth in long-term sustainable dairy operations, as well as consistent growth in per cow milk production," Lemmenes said, adding that year 2000 milk production in the state was up more than one billion pounds from 1997.

Lemmenes and Gherty also said that the two cooperatives are not going forward with a joint venture cheese plant that had been under study over the past year. They indicated that a diverse combination of factors ... from the current economic environment and conditions in the dairy industry to construction costs and financing options ... all worked to limit the feasibility of new plant construction at this time.

Gherty and Lemmenes expressed gratitude to state officials for their assistance and support.

"Wisconsin state officials, particularly the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, were very helpful in putting together the information needed to carry the study forward," Gherty said. "In addition, the state was very supportive in terms of potential financial assistance and financing options."

"We look forward to working with state officials should new initiatives develop in the future," Lemmenes said.

Gherty and Lemmenes indicated the two farmer-owned cooperatives are continuing to examine potential ways to strengthen Wisconsin dairying, and called the new marketing alliance "an important step in that direction."

Alto Dairy Cooperative ( http://www.altodairy.com ) is a 100-year-old, member-owned cooperative serving dairy producers throughout Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It manufactures an extensive line of cheese and value-added dairy products at two state-of-the-art facilities and is a national marketer of milk replacers for the veal calf industry.

Land O'Lakes ( http://www.landolakesinc.com ) is a national, farmer-owned food and agricultural cooperative, with sales approaching $6 billion. Land O'Lakes does business in all fifty states and more than fifty countries. It is a leading marketer of a full line of dairy-based consumer, foodservice and food ingredient products across the U.S.; services its international customers with a variety of food and animal feed ingredients; and provides farmers and local cooperatives with an extensive line of agricultural supplies (feed, seed, crop nutrients and crop protection products) and services.