© 2018 by Idaho Milk Processors Association

Mark Davis Bio

EARLY LIFE

Mark Davis, the oldest of five, was born in 1941 in Frost, MN, where his Father managed a small cooperative creamery. Shortly after Mark's birth, the family moved to Lamesa, TX, for a new position Stanley accepted as a buttermaker. In 1943, Stanley Davis bought the St. Peter, MN Creamery and returned home.  A dryer installed in 1956 made it possible for St Peter increasingly large volumes of milk.  Mark grew up working in the creamery and also as a corn detassler. When he turned 18 he drove a can milk truck delivering farmer's milk to the creamery.

 

EDUCATION

Mark graduated high school and enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College, where he was recruited to play football. After football season, college life wasn't a fit and Mark returned to milk truck driving. A back injury suffered in a truck accident was an incentive to return to college. He transferred to Mankato State (now Minnesota State) University, and, worked his way through school as a milk truck driver, starting his days at 4 AM.  While in college he married, at 21.  His wife Mary worked in an insurance office and they had 2 children while finishing Mark's education. The family lived in upstairs apartments, eventually buying the house his Mother's family had lived in.

 

CAREER

Following his college graduation in 1963, Mark went to work full time for his Father's creamery in St. Peter, MN. In 1968, after 5 years as a buttermaker, the Davises joined forces with a family owned cheese business in neighboring Le Sueur, MN. By then, Mark and Mary had 5 children.

 

The Le Sueur Cheese Company became a growing processor of the regions milk, becoming the largest supplier of cheese to Kraft Foods Company.  In 1970, the company acquired another drying plant in Nicollet, Minnesota and in 1973 interred into a unique 8 year partnership with Fromagerie Bongrain and produced Camembert and Brie Cheese in Le Sueur, until the value of international currency made the venture unprofitable.

 

In 1978 Mark began to explore value added uses for cheese whey, which was, historically, a costly disposal problem for cheese manufacturers.   Investigating a tip from a potential customer for whey protein, Mark visited a small group of investors in Wales who were struggling with a new technology to extract protein from cheese whey. He developed a joint venture in the technology, which over the next 25 years became one of the main pillars of what would become a $1.2 billion dairy company. Eventually he acquired all the European assets of the venture, as well as the intellectual property assets, becoming the sole owner of this technology and products. This innovative technology launched the company into a position of global leadership in the field, and onto the world stage as a dairy processor and manufacturer.

 

 

In late 1983 the Davises purchased a creamery in Lake Norden, South Dakota – which was dedicated to producing dry dairy ingredients.  That same year Mark installed the first Whey Protein Isolate plant in the U.S.

 

In 1986 the St. Peter Creamery, Inc., Le Sueur Cheese Company, Inc., and Nicollet Foods Products, Inc. merged to form Davisco Foods International, Inc.  In 1990, Mark began to explore opportunities to expand cheese production and whey processing in Idaho.  In 1992, Davisco’s size doubled when Mark made the decision to build a cheese plant in Jerome, Idaho, borrowing $35 million for the project, which ultimately made the company a key player in the U.S. milk processing industry.  In 1994 the fully automated Jerome Cheese plant was recognized as Food Engineering Magazine’s New Plant of the Year.

 

Davisco Foods grew into a manufacturer of over 1 million pounds of cheese per day, 10 million pounds of whey protein isolates annually, from processing 11 million pounds of milk per day from factories in Minnesota, South Dakota and Idaho. Headquartered in Le Sueur, MN, the company also had sales offices in Geneva, Shanghai, and Singapore. Mark Davis served as the company's President and CEO until 2012, at which time his son, Jon Davis, took over the day-to-day operations and Mark became chairman.  In 2014, Davisco Foods was acquired by the Canadian cooperative Agropur.

 

Mark continues to serve as chairman of Davis Family Holdings, with business interests including Davis Family Dairies, Cambria quartz countertops, and up until recently, Sun Country Airlines.

 

CIVIC AFFAIRS AND PHILANTHROPY

Inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans in 2016, Mark Davis is the sponsor of scholarships to underprivileged children and also gives generously to Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Camp Cambria, for children with juvenile arthritis; the Minnesota Historical Society; and the Mayo Clinic - to name a few. Mark is also a former president and   Award of Merit winner at ADPI (and ADPI Legend).   He was also recently recognized by WCMA as a Cheese Industry Champion, and is a past recipient of National Cheese Institutes Laureate award.  It is a pleasure to welcome Mark into the Idaho Milk Processors Association Hall of Fame.