Leonard Gentine, the late founder of Sargento Foods, is being inducted into the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) Food Hall of Fame. The NFRA Food Hall of Fame honors contributions and leadership in the refrigerated food industry.
Gentine was an entrepreneur with true spirit and motivation. Recognizing the growing popularity of Wisconsin cheeses, Gentine opened the Plymouth Cheese Counter in 1949 as a deli and mail order gift cheese business. At that time, retail stores only sold cheese in bulk packages, while Gentine’s store offered smaller-sized packages to consumers. In 1953, Gentine partnered with Plymouth cheesemaker Joseph Sartori and the two launched Sargento Cheese Co. The name came from a clever combination of their surnames and the “o” was added to give the name an Italian sound, since the company focused on selling Italian-style cheese products.
Marketing and merchandising innovations established by Sargento under Gentine’s leadership include the peg-bar display system that shows packaged cheese at eye-level and press-to-close packaging on resealable packages. Today, Sargento is the largest selling retail brand of natural sliced cheese and the second largest in natural shredded cheese in the U.S.
Sargento Foods is still family-owned and operated and employs nearly 1,800 in several Wisconsin locations, including the headquarters in Plymouth. Although Gentine passed away in 1996, his legacy lives on. Gentine’s sons continue to work for Sargento: Louis P. Gentine is chairman of the board, and Lawrence J. Gentine and Lee M. Gentine serve on the board of directors. Grandson Louie Gentine is CEO.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Convention during the Membership Luncheon on Oct. 24 at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C.