Lino Saputo jnr tells the story behind the international brand

BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS: Lino Saputo jnr has been sharing his plans to build up milk supply with Tasmanian suppliers now the Murray Goulburn sale is finalised. Picture: Supplied
BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS: Lino Saputo jnr has been sharing his plans to build up milk supply with Tasmanian suppliers now the Murray Goulburn sale is finalised. Picture: Supplied

When pizzas became popular in North America during the late 1950s, an Italian-born cheesemaker was on hand to supply traditional mozzarella.

Now, 64 years later, his grandson Lino Saputo jnr continues the dairy business by heading up Saputo, with products sold in 40 countries.

The Saputo family left Sicily for Canada after World War II, looking for somewhere they could thrive.

“My grandfather made his way to Canada and his only ambition was to get a job to feed his family,” Mr Saputo said.

“But my father had different ambitions; my father wanted his dad to be an entrepreneur and so at the age of 17 my father rented a space in an existing cheese factory, bought some equipment and put his dad in business.”

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With the family business expanding on the back of mozzarella, the Saputos became one of Canada’s most significant cheese producers.

Demand for cheese meant building relationships with more dairy farmers, many of whom were farming families.

Mr Saputo said he enjoyed building partnerships with stakeholders, suppliers and customers.

“I love to go out and sit at a kitchen table with one farmer; in fact I did that today a couple of times [at Smithton],” he said.

“It’s not a question of just looking at the mass; it’s about looking at these individual farmers, the family farm and the family business where we can be great partners for them over the long haul.”

Saputo plans to build up the Tasmanian market in a similar way to what was done when it took over Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory in Victoria.

“We have a target milk intake. When we acquired [Murray Goulburn] they were collecting 1.9 billion litres of milk. We think the potential to get to 2.5 billion litres of milk [nationally] is very doable,” Mr Saputo said.

“That’ll take us some time to get there, but that would be our target.”

The company grew the milk base in Warrnambool from 850 million litres to more than 1.1 billion litres, which Mr Saputo puts down to building good relationships with suppliers.

“When the industry was going through a downturn [in 2015-16] and commodity prices had collapsed, some of our competitors took a step down and a claw back and we chose not to do that,” he said.

It cost Saputo more than $12 million in one quarter, which made for some difficult conversations with shareholders and analysts, “but it was the right thing to do”.

“We’re a 64-year-old company, started by my father and my grandfather. They made sure they built that credibility one customer at a time, one employee at a time, one supplier at a time.”