Diane Sauvage is the director of INTERVAL, an export sales company headquartered in France that represents twelve French dairies, exporting their cheese and dairy products all over the world. Originally from Paris, Diane worked at Interval for thirteen years before taking a three-year hiatus, after which she and her husband purchased the company last summer.
I spoke with Diane to learn more about her journey and the future she sees both for the primarily family-owned dairies Interval represents, as well as her new global family business.
What has your professional journey been like? How did you end up in the cheese industry?
My journey has been in food my whole life. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in food because that’s my passion. I wake up each morning thinking, “What am I going to eat today?” I had the opportunity to start working for a large chocolate company, the first producer of chocolate in France. I joined the company to do their export in Ukraine and the United States. And I really loved it. After three years I wanted to be in the US because I really loved doing business with the US. I was able to get an 18-month contract through a program in France called VIE, which helps French companies develop their exports. The only one that was offered in New York that was not in finance was Interval, in the cheese business. I was one of the last ones to apply, and I gave everything to get it. And that’s how I ended up in the cheese industry.
Are you happy with the way it worked out?
I am very happy in cheese. The big difference between cheese and chocolate is I can eat cheese at every meal! But really it is the stories of the producers behind the cheese that I Iove the most, the stories about the producer of milk, and why each cheese was created. These stories are the best part for me.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?
Humility, definitely. And to have a good vision of where you want to go, who you are to begin with, and why you do this – because the why makes you really do it every day. For us, the why is that we really want the family businesses that we represent to stay independent. For these businesses to create value, export is a very good option. So we have a big role in helping them create value, and to keep the production of cheese where it is right now, and not only in big companies. So that’s our why.
Can you tell us about the moment in which you have been the proudest of what you have accomplished so far?
It’s funny but I was really proud when I did my goodbye party at Interval. I did a goodbye and then a hello again three years later when we purchased the company. So it’s very interesting. At the goodbye party, all the nice words that I got from our producers, our customers, it was really wonderful. I felt I made an impact and I did a good job. You don’t really feel that very often. So that was a moment where I really felt that. And that’s what matters for me. I want to make sure I bring what a customer needs and do a good job for them and for our dairies.
What was your dream profession when you were a child?
Maybe being a chef. Or an opera singer, but I didn’t know how to sing! I grew up in a family where food was at the center of our life. It was always the food for me. My grandma always said that as long as you work in a bank, you’re fine. But I knew that was not my thing. I need to taste what I sell, like what I sell, and enjoy it every day. So for me, I’m really where I am supposed to be.
Did you have a favorite meal growing up that still makes you think of your childhood when you eat it?
My favorite meal is roasted chicken. That’s a very traditional meal every Sunday, a whole roasted chicken. That would be my last meal also. With cheese, of course!
What is your vision for Interval’s future?
The future is to expand our sales and have offices in other countries other than in the US. Right now we just have two in the US, but we will be expanding to a more global presence.
This is Women’s History Month, so I’m curious if there has been a woman in your life who’s made a big impact who you want to acknowledge?
I would say the women in my family because when I think about it, all the women in my family were/are very strong women. My sister is an everyday support, my mom was an inspiration of hard work and my grandmother was an example of generosity and warmth.
My grandma on my mother’s side worked in a nonprofit her whole life, and she was the president. She would go to the hospital to make children smile. She was one of those grandmothers that go and play with the children that have cancer. That made a big impression on me because I was going with her, and sometimes it would be very hard to see kids like that. She kept on going until she died actually. It was pretty impressive.
My mom also was a very hard worker and had so much courage. She was never afraid of climbing the big mountains. She would just go for it. She created two businesses from scratch, and still found time to be a mother. I grew up with a mother and a business owner, so that also made a big impression on me.
Last but not least my sister is the best family manager I know – she holds everybody together with grace… including me. Her advice is just the best for me, it helps me to always see the glass half full.
Diane and her husband Nicolas are the directors of INTERVAL, an export agency and ambassador of French regional dairy products. They lead a team of multicultural, passionate experts in the export of French cheese. Since 1981, INTERVAL is the export department of 12 French dairies, all specialized in terroir products. INTERVAL exports nearly 5,000 tons of French cheeses, butter, and creams, to North America, Europe, and Asia. If you want to learn more about INTERVAL, please visit their website: intervalexport.com