The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) established the NFRA Refrigerated Food Hall of Fame in 2010 to honor individuals for contributions they have made and the leadership they have provided to the refrigerated food industry. The late Leonard Gentine, founder of Sargento Foods, will be the recipient of this year’s award.
Gentine was an entrepreneur with true spirit and motivation. Recognizing the growing popularity of Wisconsin cheeses, he 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-size packages to consumers. In 1953, he partnered with Plymouth WI cheesemaker Joseph Sartori, and the two launched Sargento Cheese Company. 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. Sargento Foods Inc is still family-owned and operated and employs nearly 1,800 in several Wisconsin locations including the headquarters in Plymouth. Although Gentine died in 1996, his legacy and importance to the refrigerated food industry live on. His 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 chief executive officer.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held October 24, 2016, at the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Convention during the Membership Luncheon at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington DC.
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