Prairie Farms Dairy recently named Matt McClelland as chief executive officer, effective Jan. 1.

He’ll replace longtime CEO Ed Mullins, who decided to step down and assume an advisory role as senior executive officer, after more than 40 years with the largest dairy cooperative in the Midwest.

With more than 30 years of his own experience at Prairie Farms, founded in Carlinville in 1938 and currently headquartered in Edwardsville, McClelland looks to build off successes and maintain a strong network of farmer members.

“We’ve got to maintain quality. That’s the foundation of our business, from the farm to the consumer,” McClelland told the RFD Radio Network as he envisions a Prairie Farms 2.0. “There’s no reason to fix something that isn’t broken. We just have to be ready to move with technology, the times or whatever it might be.”

Elements of the cooperative include more than 700 farm families, 8,100 employees, 50 manufacturing plants, more than 100 distribution facilities and annual sales of more than $3 billion.

“It all starts with our producer members,” McClelland said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we continue to maintain and grow the market share for the products coming off the farm and make sure they (farmer members) are getting the support they need from the company to maintain that.”

Prairie Farms continues to expand its lineup of products and recently received 47 awards at the 2021 World Dairy Expo Dairy Product Contest.

Its small curd cottage cheese won grand champion for taste, quality and freshness. Prairie Farms products, including cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, ice cream, flavored milk and onion dip, also received 14 first-place awards, 19 second-place and 13 third-place at the contest.

“We continue to fight the uphill battle of declining consumption of dairy products, specifically gallons of white milk,” McClelland said. “We do a lot of work to maintain that segment of our business. But, we do even more work to grow the business, whether it be value-adds or flavored products, we’re always looking to expand the portfolio. Those are the things helping us grow the business.”

As for his vision of promoting milk sales in a cluttered and highly competitive beverage market, McClelland said it’s back to basics.

“There’s no better bang for your buck (than milk) when it comes to nutrition,” he said.

A key challenge during the change of leadership at Prairie Farms likely will continue to revolve around supply chain and workforce issues.

“I think, unfortunately, what we experienced the last year is probably something we’ll continue to experience for six months or another year,” Mullins said.

“The lack of available workforce that’s willing to work and do the job you need them to is a challenge that goes all the way through the system.”

Mullins, who looks forward to spending more time with his family and doing charity work in his new, reduced role, believes Prairie Farms has the right person for the job in McClelland to tackle the challenges and grow the cooperative.

“Prairie Farms built a culture, and Matt embodies that culture,” Mullins said.

McClelland first started working for Prairie Farms as a senior in high school in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He took the job to make truck payments to his father.

“For some reason, I thought it would be neat to load milk trucks after school in the afternoons. That’s how it all got started 31 years ago,” McClelland said.

As a senior in college at Southeast Missouri State, McClelland wrote a letter to Mullins to express his interest in turning his job into a career at Prairie Farms. McClelland started in Prairie Farms’ management training program after college and, as of Jan. 1, he moves from senior vice president of sales to CEO.

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