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The Mustard Maestro: Green Lake County

Thank you, Green Lake County, for giving us Al Sass, who has harnessed his business talents and food-science knowledge to link his small Wisconsin community to world.

Al Sass

Al Sass ’05, MBA’10 is at the helm of a Green Lake County family business that annually processes more than 40 million pounds of mustard seed for products that are marketed worldwide.

But before he could cut the mustard, he needed the power of a UW–Madison education.

“If I hadn’t earned a food science degree, I wouldn’t be where I am in the food industry. [The degree] was paramount to develop the business as we have,” says Sass, president of the Berlin, Wisconsin–based Wisconsin Spice.

Sass earned his undergraduate degree in 2005 and followed it up with an MBA in 2010. “The MBA helped me build a sense of strategy that enabled us to continue to grow the business,” he says.

After spending three years with Kraft Foods in Chicago, he returned to the company that his father, Phillip, began in 1973. Al Sass began as director of business development and rose to vice president of operations and then president.

“If I hadn’t earned a food science degree, I wouldn’t be where I am in the food industry.”

Wisconsin Spice began in an abandoned, 19th-century feed mill. When the family moved it to a state-of-the-art facility in 1985, its size grew tenfold, filling a 130,000-square-foot facility. Now the company has acquired another building for further expansion.

The firm employs 80 people who process dry and prepared mustards and a variety of spices and spice blends. “We have sold in 30 countries, and about 30 percent of our business comes from global sales,” Sass says.

Besides thinking and reaching globally, another key to success, he adds, is developing and retaining a productive workforce. “Being in a niche product category, there aren’t a lot of mustard millers in all of North America. Employee development and promoting from within is crucial,” Sass says. “The price of admission is making sure we have a happy, engaged, and motivated workforce.”

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