Commercial Creamery

Commercial Creamery sends cheese and specialty dairy powders to 30 countries. Here, Gary Saling checks the level in a vat.

JEROME • Commercial Creamery is Spokane, Wash.-based, but now all of its production and quality assurance take place in Jerome.

The family-owned company started in 1908, purchasing cream from family farms and Washington dairies, President Michael Gilmartin said. It made butter, spray-dried milk powders and dried egg powder.

“It was that spray-dried powder expertise that got us into the cheese powder,” Gilmartin said.

The company added a Jerome plant in 1978, but accounting, research and development still take place in the Spokane office. The company has about 125 employees.

What it exports: Commercial Creamery’s biggest exports are cheese powders, but it also sends specialty dairy powders.

Where the product goes: The powders are sold to food manufacturers as flavoring ingredients, Gilmartin said. They’re commonly found in frozen foods, snacks and salad dressings.

The cheese powders go to countries all over the world including South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and China.

“I would say the majority of our exports go to the snack industry,” he said.

The export effort: Commercial Creamery has sent staff to Asia, but it recently hired an international sales manager to take on growing exports as a full-time job. Not long ago, Gilmartin said, foreign exports were 10 percent of the business. Last year, they were 25 percent.

Although both Washington and Idaho governments have tried to help the company with exports, Idaho has probably been more aggressive, he said. The company has attended trade missions and shows.

Commercial Creamery sends products to 30 countries — about a dozen of which are solid, ongoing customers, he said.

The trends: The Middle East was once Commercial Creamery’s second biggest export market. “We lost all that business when we invaded Iraq,” Gilmartin said.

European competitors jumped in to persuade countries in that region to trade with them instead. “Nobody in Spokane or Jerome wanted to go to Syria to try to get those customers back,” he said.

Asian countries have since made up for the lost sales, especially as the standard of living rises.

“The disposable income has been going in a huge way toward food,” Gilmartin said.

It was tricky at first in China, because the Chinese don’t traditionally have a lot of cheese in their diet, he said. But with growth in fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s, interest in cheese is steadily climbing.

In February, 12 Pacific Rim countries signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been called one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever signed. The agreement may allow companies such as Commercial Creamery to start selling in Canada, but Gilmartin expressed concern about its future.

“It’s unfortunate because everyone that’s running for president right now is against the TPP,” he said.

In theory, the agreement would bring the U.S. back to a level playing field with other countries that have free trade agreements.

—Heather Kennison

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