Sausage Entrepreneur
By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor
Cher-Make Sausage Co., Manitowoc, WI
Plant size: 50,000 square feet
Employees: About 100
Regional Distribution: Wisconsin, parts of Illinois, Minnesota, and Northern Michigan
Cher-Make is a 76-year-old company founded by the Chermak family. The president and owner, Tom Chermak, is the grandson of the founder. The company’s products are marketed under its own Cher-Make Sausage label and the Smoky Valley Sausage brand, which is popular among gourmet gift-pack makers. For the last several years, the company has also become a successful private-label sausage manufacturer and co-packer.
What led to begin private-label sausage processing?
Tom Chermak, president and owner: There was a need from one of our major customers. They were looking at items that didn’t make sense in their production mix. These were items that we currently manufactured. We built on that, and as they saw more of a need because of capacity reasons, more items came to us. We started pursuing other companies and found many of them also had the same type of situation.
Our job is to make sure, that as a co-packer,  people can trust their brand with us, and we can take products out of their hands and provide a seamless transition. We have a sensory panel that we’ve put in place, so we can test their product not only for their quality specifications and food safety — but also for taste and bite. We’ve put the programs in place so they can transition their product over to us and not have to worry about it.
John Grosser, director of sales and marketing: We have developed a relationship over the past 26 years with retailers like Super Valu corporate. They were very familiar with the Cher-Make product as many of the buyers were promoted from the Wisconsin division. They asked us to consider manufacturing their Farm Fresh private-label summer sausage, and they said, “And we want it made exactly like your Cher-Make product with our Farm Fresh label on it because we know your quality, and we won’t have to worry about it.” We’ve worked hard to earn the reputation of servicing these people very well and being a trouble-free supplier, and we offer them a high-quality product at a very competitive price nationwide.
What are the products that you consider your specialties?
JG: We produce fermented semi-dried smoked summer sausages, and we also make a variety of natural-casing cured and smoked items like wieners, Polish sausage, and the like. Two other popular items are pre-cooked bratwurst and breakfast links. We also provide skinless cocktail sausages in a variety of flavors.
How do you market those products against the national competition?
JG: We have a dedicated direct sales staff. Our sales group calls on wholesale warehouses making sure the product is slotted, then our sales staff calls on the retail trade offering promotions and demonstrations. Demonstrations are still one of the older tried-and-true methods of promoting our type of product. We have been very fortunate that many consumers look for the Cher-Make product to purchase and are always willing to try our new products. More often than not, consumers will purchase these new products and remain or become repeat purchasers.
Are there any new developments in the company?
JG: We have several new products that will be introduced in February. These are going to be a natural-casing smoked Italian sausage with Wisconsin mozzarella cheese, and a smoked Cheddi-link with Wisconsin cheddar cheese. These are both in the linked form, and those will fill out our existing family of stackable items for the retail case.
We’ve also just finished a complete renovation of our smokehouse area, where we installed all new state-of-the-art smoke generators. That was a significant step for yield improvements and product consistency. Beyond that, I can only tell you there are some other positive changes and additions in discussion at this time.