Tillamook County Creamery Association Does Growth Right

Tillamook County Creamery Association leverages its dynamic growth to support its employees and farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic

In 1909, several small creameries joined forces to ensure all cheese made in the Tillamook Valley in Oregon would retain the same high quality. Thus, Tillamook County Creamery Association was born.

Throughout its 111-year history, the farmer-owned cooperative’s growth can be seen by the variety of dairy products and the opening of additional creameries while providing “Dairy Done Right” for its customers across the United States. And during her seven-year tenure as its CFO, Linda Pearce saw the growth firsthand.

“Tillamook is a very dynamic, fast-paced, growing company,” she noted in a 2018 University of Oregon alumna profile. “We are constantly evaluating a number of long-term strategic projects.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tillamook was in the midst of expanding its presence east of the Rocky Mountains. One of the steps was to implement a $15 million ERP overhaul to provide the systems needs to grow quickly. And between 2013 (when Pearce came on board) and 2018, she oversaw five straight years of double-digit growth, increased shareholder returns, and a rise in company valuation of 225 percent.

The co-op also renovated and upgraded its fifty-year-old visitor center at its factory on Highway 101. “We are so excited about this transformation,” Pearce told the Portland Business Journal ahead of the center reopening in 2018. “We had the best architect, the best builder, the best chef—we will be offering amazing food, along with local, popular Oregon brands of beer and wine. It’s a must-see for the 1.3 million visitors who stop by for a visit every year.”

Just before the pandemic hit the United States, the co-op launched its first cream cheese product. “That launch time was great because we got on the shelf, we got the authorizations we wanted,” CEO Patrick Criteser told Food Business News in April 2020. “We’re getting a lot of trial because people are buying a lot of groceries.”

While many businesses came to a halt during the pandemic, Tillamook stayed strong because a majority of its products are available in grocery stores. Food Business News reported that Tillamook’s two biggest products—ice cream and cheese—were up around 50 percent in both March and April, with demand skewing toward larger pack sizes and storable formats like block cheese.

“I think it’s a combination of people wanting to store more things in their refrigerators, but also maybe being more inclined to take the time to shred their own cheese, slice it, and use it when cooking recipes,” Criteser told Food Business News.

But in order to provide dairy for its customers, Tillamook needed to care for its employees. Nearly seven hundred employees were still physically going to work at the manufacturing plants, and several hundred more were working remotely. So in early May 2020, the co-op announced a $4 million relief plan to help its employees, communities, and industry partners to recover from COVID-19.

Tillamook expanded sick leave, offered premium pay for frontline manufacturing workers, and maintained full wages and benefits for all employees—even those who working at the temporarily closed visitor center.

“For our employees and our farmers, we’ve all been very proud of the role that we’re playing in meeting the increased demand for at-home food in the nation in a time a crisis,” Criteser told KOIN 6.

The company also pledged to support local nonprofits and businesses—including the Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Community Foundation, and the Tillamook County Action Resource Enterprises—as part of its commitment to community enrichment efforts. And in the fall, Tillamook partnered with Eva Longoria to pledge 10 percent of its sales during September to help financially struggling farmers as part of its “All for Farmers” initiative. On October 12, National Farmers Day, Tillamook donated $1.6 million to the American Farmland Trust.

Tillamook also committed $100,000 to help restaurant chefs whose businesses were hit hard during the pandemic. “Being a farmer-owned and farmer-led co-op gives Tillamook a resilient edge,” Criteser told Deli Market News. “Our co-op is holding up well, and we are grateful to be able to help others, like farmers and chefs, in their time of need.”

When you go above and beyond, the sun rises on limitless potential. That’s why we believe in applauding your achievements—and the possibilities they inspire. Congratulations Linda Pearce and Tillamook County Creamery Association for recognition as industry leaders and innovators. Moss Adams is proud of its longstanding collaboration with Tillamook. Discover how our forward-looking, industry-focused accounting and consulting services help businesses thrive at mossadams.com.