Case study on family business success and growth

How the Miceli family’s Italian cheese passion has driven success for nearly a century

By: Stephanie Taylor Christensen

Many families pass recipes from one generation to the next, but few of those recipes translate into commercial success.

Jonathan Miceli at Miceli Dairy Products.

Then you have companies like Miceli Dairy Products.

Founded by John Miceli Sr. in 1923, the Cleveland-based company has become a national leader in the Italian cheese industry, and still operates from the East 90th Street location where it’s thrived since 1949.

Here are the ingredients that have shaped the company’s success.

Branching out

Family businesses often struggle under the demands of growth, but Miceli Dairy Products has flourished by offering a diverse mix of products.

“Our growth has come from finding new avenues,” says Jonathan Miceli, vice president of corporate administration and a grandson of founder John Miceli.

Although mozzarella and ricotta remain the company’s core products, it has expanded its offerings over the years to include specialty items, private label products and food ingredient sales to major retailers and food processors. It also supplies mozzarella to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Miceli Dairy Products in Cleveland, Ohio.

To meet that need, four years ago Miceli Dairy Products invested nearly $20 million to upgrade its facilities and manufacturing capabilities, which has proven pivotal to its continued growth. The company funded the project with the help of Huntington Bank, with which it had built a relationship over the past 15 years.

“We are able to offer our space as a place to have meetings and to support Cleveland development among the business community.”
- Jonathan Miceli, Vice President Corporate Administration, Miceli Dairy Products

“When it came time for the $20 million expansion, Huntington stepped up and offered to be a partner in helping us grow,” Miceli says. “They’ve been great to work with throughout and offered quite a bit of flexibility and innovation. We’ve seen firsthand their commitment to Cleveland.”

Space to grow

Approximately one-third of the company’s expansion funds went into growing its physical footprint and doubling production capacity.

“We added a new welcome and marketing center, along with a test kitchen that looks like a restaurant,” says Miceli. “Now we can bring customers to our facility, and cook and serve them food. We have about 50 major visits a year from clients and buyers, and it really helps them experience the product.”

Before its 2012 expansion, Miceli Dairy Products had approximately 135 employees; today the company employs nearly 190.

More square footage has also allowed the company to stop leasing off-site space for warehousing, which was extremely inefficient, Miceli says.

“Now that we’ve expanded our warehouse space and invested in new machinery, it’s all handled on-site,” he says. “We’ve also added a state-of-the-art receiving area that has improved our milk intake. What used to take a whole day now takes about 12 hours.”

The company’s new and improved space has even benefited the city of Cleveland, which Miceli Dairy Products has called home for nearly a century.

Jonathan Miceli at Miceli Dairy Products.

“We are able to offer our space as a place to have meetings and to support Cleveland development among the business community,” says Miceli.

Honoring the past

The founding Miceli always dreamt his operation would evolve into a nationally recognized business, and his grandson attributes its staying power in large part to its commitment to authenticity.

“We strive to stay current and work with our customers to meet their needs, but we are authentically Italian,” Miceli says.

Miceli Dairy Products still produces an authentic ricotta product that’s highly popular with people who do their own baking, as well as authentic mascarpone and handmade mozzarella. The company remains family-owned, by founder John Miceli’s four children. Twelve Miceli family members are directly involved with day-to-day business operations, as well.

“Despite our growth, we are still very family-oriented,” says Miceli.

While staying authentic remains a constant focus, company leaders recognize the importance of pursuing new opportunities. Plans are already under way to further expand Miceli Dairy Products offerings.

“We are hoping to begin production on a whey drying facility in the next year,” says Miceli. (Whey is a byproduct after mozzarella is made. Dry whey can be used for products such as whey protein supplements). “This would be a new item — and we already have brokers who have a heavy interest.”

For more information, visit miceli-dairy.com.

Miceli Ricotta on Pizza.

Miceli Dairy Products at a glance

  • Company founder John Miceli was just 15 years old when he began selling his authentic Italian cheeses door to door to local businesses and neighbors in his Model T pickup truck. He lived to be 91 and never retired from the business he began.
  • The company’s East 90th facility used to be a local bottling plant that went out of business.
  • Miceli Dairy Products is the largest American privately owned manufacturer of ricotta cheeses, producing approximately 20 percent of the ricotta cheese consumed in the United States. It is also a significant producer of mozzarella and provolone.
  • Miceli Dairy Products brings in 20 million pounds of milk a month to make cheese. The company will make 75 million pounds of cheese this year.
  • The company occasionally partners with local high-end chefs to prepare meals for clients in its new welcome facility.

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