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Producer Survival: staying in business during the pandemic

Listen to the monger’s maker-centric webinar, co-hosted by Carlos Yescas of Oldways Cheese Coalition.

Click for Audio (and fiddle with the EQ!)


Producer Survival, April 16, 2020

Panelists:

Lynn Giacomini – Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Marin County, CA Rynn Caputo – Caputo Brothers Creamery outside of York, PA Benton Brown and Caroline Hesse – Crown Finish Caves, Brookly, NY Tabitha Stroup – Friend In Cheeses Jam Company and Terroir In A Jar, Santa Cruz, CA

Hosts:

Carlos Yescas – Oldways Cheese Coalition, Boston, MA Will Fertman – themonger.com Lis Harvey (producer) – lis@themonger.com



Notes and key takeaways:


Carlos began by asking each panelist to address their “Moment of Realization”. When did they realize things were changing because of the pandemic? Did they have all the tools? A contingency plan, a system of communication? Later, he would ask them to share their plans, moving forward.

Lynn:

The landscape for Pt. Reyes Farmstead prior to COVID-19: a thriving business, agro-tourism.

Experiencing sales growth, doing great

They are raising all of their own milk now. Post-shelter-in-place, the company “contracted” by ceasing to purchase milk from Petaluma Co-ops. That has been going on 5-6 weeks now.

Benton from CFCaves:

5 year old company, future was looking good. They were booking a variety of sales trips.

Were getting ready to unveil and test new products at the summer Fancy Food Show in NY, which has been cancelled. Like Pt. Reyes, CFC runs multiple events that involve gathering. They had made investments into live music events, other in-person events. All need to be revised.

Tabitha Stroup of Friend In Cheeses and Terroir In A Jar:

She hires women through the homeless garden in Santa Cruz area… dealing with employees with increased housing insecurity.

Ensuring all staff is safe/ employed… is tough!

Rynn:

Caputo began with the intention to revolutionize mozz and ricotta… no vinegar or citric acid.

This year, they’ve postponed their annual trip to Italy… could see how bad everything was. They were in the middle of purchasing a Water Buffalo herd, and everything came to a halt in three days. Rynn had built models and projections in November. Went from those months-out predictions down to day by day. Then how do we get through next three days… at this point they’re looking at 4-5 days out.

Lynn:

is going to cut wheels in half (that’s not what normally happens). Lynn in touch w distributors on a daily basis/ how are you how can we help… a lot of communication is happening through social media. An opportunity for them to be forward facing and engaging. Live farm tours on social media as an example of “hey we’re still here”

Benton:

had to focus on highly perishable items that needed to be moved fast.

Caroline Hesse had several moments of realization.

second week of march, she was on vacation and then didn’t go away as planned… something was going to change

Not just one moment. Many.

“We have no idea what’s going to happen.” Day to day, we don’t know what’s coming. What is this transition going to look like? How are the restaurants going too be back in business? Trying to stay uplifted as a group. Everyone bikes to work… we have just a small group and we’re able to circle the wagons.

Tabitha:

The day before CA announced shutdown, she had an elective surgery. She was recovering while trying to figure out what was next. Distribution… aha moment was third week of march when the PO’s dried up. Online orders were trickling… social media has been key ...

“My kitchen has become a hub for caterers to be able to create meals for those who cannot get out. “

Things might change, but I will not undermine my integrity.

Might cater again. “Anything to not shutter our doors.”

“We will adjust and we will find a way. Food is love. We’re not going to let the Krafts and the Smuckers of the world overtake.”

Rynn:

Caputo shut down their facility early

realized: if they wanted to keep everyone employed and to keep buying milk from their dairy farm… they needed to shift to what gave them the best longevity in store.

Rynn, Tabitha — everyone taking social distancing very seriously. Benton adds that there are already very specific and intentional ways cheesemakers touch things, so it’s easy to adjust to paying extra attention to handling.

What’s the plan for now?



Benton:

Adjusting to a tremendous amount of cutting. Thinking about cut-and-wrap costs. All the supplies that you maybe don’t have in stock… now that you’re cutting small wedges. How to do it without a Cryovac machine… online presence is becoming more and more important. It’s not enough, but… Getting a little bit of money in, moving along product and keeping employees. It helps.

Lynn:

Labor is an issue

Cheese counters no longer have the representation that they used to. So Pt. Reyes is providing more cut and wrap.

They have a backup creamery team. Keep those two teams isolated (20 miles apart)… so if one team gets sick, they can close that down.

Working with food banks, trying to help the unemployed. Cheese is one of the best sources of protein…

Seeing a boom in retail at Farmer’s Markets. Seeing numbers like around the holidays. People want to have that small luxury in their home. Free shipping right now…

Rynn:

recommends Shopify, or Square, and flat rate shipping helps.

She encourages cheesemakers to try it.

Additional questions from attendees:



  • We've lost our milk source due to shut-downs. Any suggestions? (Barbara of 5 Spoke Creamery in Goshen, NY)


  • Recommendations for mail order companies? Like so many, we are left with about 25% of our January/February sales. Our facility is small but we are turning to mail order. (Judy Schad)

  • Shipping costs can be upwards of $30 per order; how are you combating those costs? (Amy Spitznagel)

  • Would you suggest some eco-friendly shipping ideas? (Katie Bray of Oregon Cheese Guild)


  • Are cheesemakers uniting and writing to the government for help in selling locally? (Jonas Mertens, Belgian small-scale goat dairy farmer in Transylvania, points out that is what they are doing in Europe to stoke the local markets)

What offerings are popular (online or delivery) right now from your company?



Items: “I miss my friends” cheese box (Crown Finish Caves)

Events: Virtual Mozzarella class (Caputo Bros.)

Content: Recipes online, interaction on Instagram (Pt. Reyes)

Concept/rallying slogan: “Curd herd immunity” (Caputo Bros.)

Upcoming webinar: Social Media & Online Marketing for the Specialty Foods Industry




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