Interview with Continental Dairy President Steve Cooper
A large percentage of manufacturers are located inside nondescript buildings and scattered across Michigan communities, making it easy for people to just drive by. Entire subsectors of the industry develop products which are parts of a larger product. This all feeds into a common burden among manufacturers — the feeling of invisibility. While finding success can be difficult when you work behind the scenes, it can be done. Continental Dairy Facilities LLC is a company on the rise, respected throughout the industry for producing high-quality, much-needed products with little fanfare from the general public.
“It’s true that you’ll never see our name on a store shelf, but we are everywhere,” says Steve Cooper, president of the Coopersville-based Continental Dairy. “Our products are supplied to all the biggest food manufacturers in the world and we are recognized by our customers as producers of some of the highest quality product anywhere.”
Continental Dairy is a dairy processing plant located in Michigan and owned by Select Milk Producers, the nation’s seventh largest dairy co-op, made up of more than 99 dairy farmers. On any given day, their plant produces more than 300,000 pounds of dry, non-fat milk for use as the base ingredient in ice cream, cheese, yogurt, whipped cream, pasta sauce and countless other products found in pantries worldwide. As a staple of Michigan’s second-largest manufacturing sector, their reputation is anything but invisible to those they work with.
“Farms, people and technology achieving gold star quality — that’s our mission statement and it really cements what Continental is all about,” explains Cooper. “Our products are made from high-quality ingredients by some of the most talented workers in the world utilizing some of the most state-of-the-art technology. We come to work each day excited for the chance to give back to people in a very important, very personal way — through the food they eat.”
Since the company’s first product shipped in the spring of 2012, the construction trucks have never left Continental’s 400,000-square-foot facility; they’ve never stopped growing. The Michigan manufac- turer routinely expands their footprint with new innovations. A $50 million butter plant, a $10 million reverse osmosis unit, and a $2.4 million grant for a new, on-site wastewater pretreatment plant are just a few of Continental’s most recent additions.
“We’ve been lucky to have some very loyal, very gifted workers call Continental home,” Cooper states. “We’ve almost doubled our employee count and have a turnover rate of about 2 percent — that’s so rare in manufacturing and a testament to the type of culture we’ve worked to build. Now we’re working to maintain that culture as we’re being asked to do more than ever.”
The company has made such progress that their co-op owners are working to clone the technology and processes for a twin facility in Texas — relying on the Continental team’s expertise to make it as successful as the original.
“Of course, I wish more people knew about us and what we do, but recognition should never be why you do something — do what you do best in order to serve others,” says Cooper. “Our team is amazing and we leave each night knowing we’ve made a difference for people. There’s nothing better than that feeling.”
This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Check out the latest issue and read past issues online.