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Gary Vanic Named 2016 National Cheese Institute Laureate

Jan 27, 2016
Gary Vanic, 2016 NCI Laureate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   
Contact: Peggy Armstrong
(202) 220-3508 

(Phoenix – January 27, 2016) The National Cheese Institute has bestowed its highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award, on Gary Vanic, past president and CEO of Great Lakes Cheese Co., Inc., in Hiram, Ohio. NCI Chairman Ron Dunford, who is president, Schreiber US, Schreiber Foods, Inc., presented the award to Vanic this week during a special ceremony at the International Dairy Foods Association's Dairy Forum 2016 in Phoenix.

The NCI Laureate Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and growth of the cheese industry. A panel of industry professionals chooses a winner each year based on the person's long-term contributions to the industry.

Leadership, Vision and Focus Spur Growth

Vanic started his career in the dairy industry at Land O’ Lakes in Minnesota. Over a span of 20 years, he took on a variety of projects and titles, calling himself “the fixer” as he learned every aspect of the dairy business. At the same time, another NCI Laureate, Hans Epprecht, was building his own business, transforming Great Lakes Cheese from a small market stall in Cleveland to one of the largest suppliers of private label cheeses in the country. When Epprecht was ready to retire in 1999, he chose Vanic as his successor. 

Vanic accepted the challenge, leading Great Lakes Cheese as president and CEO for the next 16 years. During his tenure, Vanic was known for driving innovation and supporting initiatives that helped to define the company’s continued success.

“Gary’s vision and focus on building a low-cost, efficient processed and packaged cheese organization is well documented in the successful growth of Great Lakes Cheese Company,” said Richard Smith, president and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., who nominated Vanic for the award. “His leadership has resulted in a focused approach with state-of-the-art regional production facilities, an enhancement of Great Lakes’ distribution system and an emphasis on creating new products designed to drive demand and consumption of the cheese industry.”

While Vanic took over the reins at Great Lakes Cheese, he became increasingly active in NCI and IDFA, holding several leadership positions just a few years later. He served as IDFA chairman from 2009 to 2011 and IDFA vice chairman from 2008 to 2009. He also served as NCI chairman from 2008 to 2009, NCI vice chairman from 2006 to 2008 and NCI treasurer from 2004 to 2006.

“Gary is one of those quiet, powerful leaders who is well respected by everyone,” said Connie Tipton, IDFA president and CEO.  “He obviously made a huge difference at Great Lakes Cheese, and he likewise made a big difference at NCI and IDFA, and certainly in the lives of everyone he’s worked with.”

Including Vanic and Epprecht, other cheese industry pioneers who have won the NCI Laureate Award include Fritz Leeman, Bob Bush, Larry Jensen, Lou Gentine, Mark Johnson, Jerome Schuman, Larry Ferguson, John Jeter, Mark Davis, Wes Allen, Elmer Marth, Max Gonzenbach, Rudy Nef, Betsy Holden, Don Storhoff, Lester Kielsmeier, Norm Olson, Dave Nusbaum, John Nelson, Harold Steinke, Raymond Goldbach, Jack Budahn and Vince Zehren.

A video honoring Vanic for his contributions is available at IDFA’s YouTube channel.

NCI will issue a call for nominations for the 2017 NCI Laureate Award this summer.

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The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation's dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, with a membership of 550 companies within a $125-billion a year industry. IDFA is composed of three constituent organizations: the Milk Industry Foundation (MIF), the National Cheese Institute (NCI) and the International Ice Cream Association (IICA). IDFA's nearly 200 dairy processing members run nearly 600 plant operations, and range from large multi-national organizations to single-plant companies. Together they represent more than 85 percent of the milk, cultured products, cheese, ice cream and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United States. Visit IDFA at

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