As president of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, Strunk leads strategic planning to further expand the brand and distribution of Tillamook products.
With profits from the co-op going back to its farmer-owners, Strunk works to protect their assets and to preserve a way of life for future generations.
He attended East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, where he played football and graduated with a bachelor's degree in education.
Strunk's favorite Tillamook cheese? Vintage White extra-sharp cheddar.
Tell us something about your company.
I am the president and CEO of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, a $500-million farmer-owned dairy cooperative that manufactures premium-quality cheese and ice cream, and also markets a line of butter and cultured dairy products under the Tillamook brand name.
Our products are distributed through retail and food services outlets throughout the U.S., but are mainly focused in the western one-third of the country. My role is to define the strategic direction for our organization and execute against that strategy to maximize value for our farmer/owners.
What is the growth potential for your industry?
Fortunately, the per-capita consumption of cheese continues to grow in the U.S., although it is still less than in many European countries.
The Tillamook brand has tremendous opportunity for growth. I believe it could be a billion-dollar company.
Tillamook Cheese is the number-three brand of natural cheese behind Kraft and store brands nationally, yet we are only in distribution in approximately 35 percent of the retail grocery stores in the country. We feel we have good opportunities to grow.
First, there is potential to continue to grow our entire portfolio of products in the western markets outside the Northwest. The Tillamook brand is very strong in Oregon and Washington, but we still have plenty of room to grow in the other western markets. We are currently putting sales and marketing programs in place to take advantage of these opportunities.
In addition, we have very limited distribution east of the Mississippi River, where a large portion of the population lives. As we prove we can successfully grow our business in the western markets outside the Northwest, we can then determine what it will take to penetrate some of the eastern markets.
We think we have a great product, as demonstrated by being voted the World's Best Medium Cheddar at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin. Now, we need to get people to taste it for themselves.
What's been your company's greatest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is balancing the need to sustain the family farms of our membership with the capital requirements needed to grow the brand.
Under our current cooperative business structure, the equity needed to grow the business must come from the earnings of the company. That is a lot of heavy financial lifting from our farmer-owners, who are struggling to keep their farms profitable.
As we grow, the need for marketing and capital investments will grow and that will continue to challenge us as we are structured today.
How can the Oregon coast be more business-friendly?
Recruiting and retaining talented employees to the Oregon coast has its challenges. Because we have limited industry, it is often difficult for employees' spouses to find meaningful work in the area. This can deter a family from choosing to relocate here.
I also think there is some sticker shock at the real estate market along the coast. We have a high rate of vacation homes, which affects the affordability of housing in the area.
What we are doing well regionally to be more business-friendly is focusing on educational opportunities for students coming out of high school. An example is the new facility and the expanded class offerings and business partnerships that Tillamook Bay Community College has put together.
For several years now, TCCA, along with Hampton Lumber and Stimson, have partnered with the college on an engineering apprenticeship program that offers students vocational experience and certification opportunities. This has led to developing additional skills-based training programs that will help improve the quality of the workforce along the coast.
What advice would you give to other leaders?
Stay focused. With a growing business, there are a lot of opportunities that present themselves. If you start chasing all those opportunities, you dilute your effort and get distracted from the core reason you have been successful.
That is not to say you should not take advantage of opportunities that arise. But make sure they complement your core business.
Create a strategic vision for where you want your business to be in three to five years, then work your plan to get there. It may be necessary to make adjustments to your plans based on market conditions or completive responses, but if you stay focused on your strategic vision you will find a way to get there.
Tell us something about you that few people know about.
I have a degree in education. My plan had been to coach football.
How does TCCA contribute to the community?
We are very involved with activities that support the agricultural community, as well as our local school districts.
In addition, in 2007 Tillamook began a partnership with the KGW Great Food Drive to support the Oregon Food Bank. This has helped to focus our giving efforts around food security.
We are very pleased with what we've been able to accomplish through the Great Food Drive sponsorship. We've helped raise 4,187,250 pounds of food to feed families in Oregon and southwest Washington. Tillamook's contribution alone in the 2009 and 2010 campaigns was the equivalent of 293,620 pounds of cheese.
Additionally, Tillamook employees conduct localized food drives. In 2010, TCCA employees donated the equivalent of over 8,800 pounds of food. All of that stayed locally and benefited the Regional Food Bank of Tillamook County and CAPECO in Morrow County.
What do you do to relax?
There is nothing better than drinking a great bottle of Oregon Pinot and eating fresh-cooked Dungeness crab and grilled oysters, while watching the Pacific Ocean roll in.