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European-style cheeses ‘win’
with both judges, consumers

April 18, 2014

By Alyssa Sowerwine

MADISON, Wis. — If you look at the grand champion cheeses of the past several years’ of World Championship Cheese Contests, you may notice a common theme among them — all of the cheeses are European-made varieties.

From Gruyere, to Gouda, to Swiss, European-style cheeses are consistently taking the top spots at the world contest, which is growing each year it is held. The contest, sponsored by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), is held in even-numbered years, while WCMA’s U.S. Championship Cheese Contest is held in odd-numbered years.

Even the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest winners in 2011 and 2013 were European-style, U.S.-made cheeses.

The appealing presentation of these cheese types can make a lasting first impression on judges and consumers alike, says Robert Aschebrock, veteran USDA dairy grader and chief judge of the World Championship Cheese Contest.

“Presentation of samples is one area where especially the European and many U.S. cheesemakers have made great strides when entering samples for competition,” Aschebrock says.

“In my opinion, eye appeal or in the case of wheel styles of cheese, ‘wheel appeal,’ can be a factor for many cheeses,” he adds. “The workmanship it takes to present a perfectly-shaped and nicely-finished wheel of cheese, whether it is foreign- or U.S.-made, gives both a cheese buyer or contest judge that important first impression. When a judge looks at a sample of product either in a wheel form or plastic-wrapped square block, that first impression can become part of the assessment of that sample.”

John Umhoefer, executive director, WCMA, says while he does not think visual appeal is as a big a factor to judges, he believes selecting a winning cheese comes down to recognizing cheeses that require a lot of craftsmanship, those that are both beautiful and difficult to make.

Aschebrock notes that the judges selected for the World Championship Cheese Contest are experts at what they do; many of them have actual experience in making cheeses of some type.

“Experienced judges know that making a winning cheese, whether it be a Swiss, Emmentaler, Appenzeller, Gouda or any winning cheese for that matter, a certain amount of skill is required,” he says.

This is particularly true when a cheese with eye formation like a Swiss or Appenzeller is manufactured, he adds.

“Getting perfect eye formation in a Swiss sample, for example, requires more technique and skill than making many other cheeses that are mass-produced,” Aschebrock notes. “Eye formations can be a real challenge. Many of the winning cheeses from Europe are more or less handmade, and the cheesemaker’s skill can certainly be a major factor. I believe in many cases, judges make some of the assessment of a sample on the level of skill it takes to make a particular cheese.”

Much more than eye appeal goes into the evaluation of cheeses, of course, Aschebrock notes.

“In our contests we stress flavor of the cheese as the major factor in selection of the winners,” he says. “Next to the flavor, we evaluate the body and texture of the cheese sample. A lower-moisture or semi-hard cheese made from raw or heat-treated milk tends to break down,or as many people call it become ‘creamy,’ sooner than some other cheeses.”

MaryAnn Drake, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of sensory analysis and flavor chemistry at North Carolina State University and a judge of the American Cheese Society (ACS) competition for the past several years, notes that the European-style cheeses consistently winning the World Championship Cheese Contest are cheese types that tend to be rich in caramel and nutty notes.

Cheeses like Gouda and Gruyere have flavors that are universally appealing to judges and consumers, she adds.

“Those types of flavor profiles in cheese are generally understood and recognized by people,” Drake says.

She adds that when considering a panel of judges, cheeses with these qualities are more likely to be universally appealing across the board, rather than some cheeses such as a washed-rind cheese that may be more of a personal preference.

“When we’re looking for a winning cheese, we’re looking for balance and uniformity, and something that meets or comes close to the ideal in terms of appearance,” Drake says.

For example, with Swiss cheese, judges are looking carefully at the eye formation in the cheese, she says.

“You want there to be holes but not breaks or cracks,” Drake says.

Aschebrock agrees.

“We now split or cut wheels of cheese to properly evaluate eye formation in some cheeses,” he says. “In the past we used only a cheese trier to evaluate those types of cheese, and now by cutting samples we can really get a true picture of eye formations.”

Aschebrock notes that the flavor development or profile of cheeses produced from grass-fed cattle is a major factor in making cheeses that tend to appeal to both consumers and judges.

“A cheese made from unpasteurized milk or grass-fed cows will have a flavor profile that is becoming more and more popular and desired by cheese connoisseurs,” he says.

Aschebrock adds that cheesemakers around the world have made tremendous strides with the cultures they use for making cheese.

“The flavor profiles we see in European cheeses are a result of starter cultures that are either provided by culture manufacturers, or they could be what we call carry-over starters/cultures,” he says. “A carry-over culture could be one that a cheesemaker high in the mountains (of Europe) has used for the entire season of cheesemaking.”

Tom Gellert, president of the Cheese Importers Association of America, notes that some of the European recipes go back hundreds of years, and the consistency of these recipes and the quality of the milk is appealing to judges and consumers.

“These cheesemakers have really been able to perfect their craft,” he says. “I think the United States, while they are making great-quality cheeses, there is a difference and it shows. Not to say European cheeses are better, but each present a different quality to the judges.”

Still, there is great craftsmanship in U.S. cheeses and great opportunities for the future, he adds.

With so many quality cheeses to choose from and entries growing each year, Umhoefer says cheesemakers should carefully select a cheese that stands out and “raises judges’ eyebrows.”

Entries in the World Championship Cheese Contest this year reached a new record, growing 5 percent to 2,615 entries from 22 nations around the world, WCMA says.

“This year, we had some U.S. cheeses knocking on the door” of the champions, Umhoefer says.

“There are so many factors throughout the judging process that could change and alter a score, so you never really know who could win,” he says. “It does seem that full flavor cheeses are consistently winning as opposed to something like a Mozzarella.”

Drake notes that judging is exactly what it implies —it’s an opinion.

“It’s a subjective thing rather than a mainstream sensory analysis,” she says. “Personally in my experience, I don’t notice a huge difference in quality between U.S.- and European-made cheeses of the same type. The United States makes some spectacular cheeses, both European-style and originals.”

She adds that the trend of European cheeses taking the top spots of the World Championship Cheese Contest in recent years is likely an anomaly.

“The United States will take the championship sooner or later. All you have to do is look at the growth of entries in competitions like ACS ­— the level of entries, and especially quality entries, have increased a lot over the past several years,” she says. “As someone who has judged that for the past five years, we’ve gone from seeing a range of quality in cheeses to really seeing more high-quality entries across the board. And if some of those entries also are going to the World Championship contest, it’s only a matter of time.”


State legislation to expand,
limit raw milk access fails

April 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — A proposed bill to relax regulations on raw milk in California, as well as an amendment that would have banned farmers from selling raw milk in Illinois, both recently failed to proceed in their respective sessions.

California’s AB 2505, the “Home Dairy Farm Raw Milk Safety Act,” was introduced by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, in February. It failed to move out of California’s Assembly Agriculture Committee last week.

The bill would have exempted small farms with no more than three milk cows or no more than 15 milk goats from the same regulations larger producers in the state must follow to sell their raw milk to consumers.

The bill was opposed by FDA and a number of medical and industry organizations, including the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), which submitted a letter to California Assembly leaders urging them to reject the bill.

“Loosening the regulations surrounding raw milk through AB 2505 would be a step in the wrong direction,” IDFA and NMPF say in the letter. “While choice is an important value, it should not pre-empt consumers’ well-being. To further ease the regulations surrounding the state-wide sale of raw milk is an unnecessary risk to consumer safety.”

Meanwhile, a proposed bill amendment in Illinois that would have banned the sale and distribution of raw milk directly from farms also did not move forward. Its sponsor, Rep. Daniel Burke, D-Chicago, chose not to move HB 4036 out of committee after “thousands of communications” from raw milk proponents.

“With the increasing popularity of the beverage, including legislation introduced on the national level, it just doesn’t make sense to interfere with the direct relationship between the people who produce this food and the people who want it,” Burke says. “I have no intention of moving forward with this bill. I would like to see the law remain as it is and I appreciate all those who took the time to contact me with their opinions.”

Last month, two bills were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent the federal government from interfering with interstate raw milk sales. (See “Industry voices concerns on federal raw milk legislation” in the March 28, 2014, issue of Cheese Market News.)

While demand for raw milk may be growing, many still are urging lawmakers to reject calls to increase its availability for the sake of consumer health and protection.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) earlier this month published its findings based on outbreak data gathered over a 10-year period. Among these, it says out of 104 outbreaks of illness linked to milk, 70 percent were caused by raw milk. In other works, CSPI says, although less than one percent of consumers drink raw milk, they bear 70 percent of the burden of illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks.

“Pasteurization of milk is one of the most important public health advances of the last 100 years, sparing countless people from infections and deaths caused by Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria,” says CSPI senior food safety attorney Sarah Klein. “Consumers should avoid raw milk, and lawmakers should not expand its availability.”


Grilled cheese goes mobile
with a motorcade of trucks

April 18, 2014

By Emily King

MADISON, Wis. — Grilled cheese, a sandwich that had humble beginnings in the early 20th century, is now recognized with its own month. April is National Grilled Cheese Month, and the sandwich once known as a childhood fixture has grown into a meal that is fashioned with a sense of gourmet creativity. Restaurants feature the sandwich as a staple of their menu and in the past few years, grilled cheese has gone mobile in food trucks all across the country.

The procession of grilled cheese trucks between the first and latest additions to the fleet is as diverse as the cities in which they operate.

Grilled cheese trucks have started popping up in Canada, and the first was Gorilla Cheese, Toronto. Showing some Canadian pride, its feature sandwich is dubbed the Lumberjack, topped with bacon, apples and maple syrup.

On the West Coast, The Grilled Cheese Grill in Portland, Ore., says to “Come by for a taste of your childhood *Unless your childhood sucked, and then we’ll let ya have a taste of ours.” Its childhood must have included The Mondor, a sandwich stuffed with Tillamook Pepperjack, avocado, red onion and roasted red peppers.

GourMelt, Reno, Nev., plays to the sweeter side of things with its Cherry Bomb, made with Chevre, cherries and candied pecans.

Moving further east, Cincinnati, Ohio, is home to C’est Cheese, with an Oscar Mayer Robertson, a nod to a simpler creation with fried bologna and American Cheese.

If the mood strikes for Brie, Fontina and Smoked Prosciutto, the Grilled Cheeserie, Nashville, Tenn., is there to offer its Melt of the Moment, created by its Le Cordon Bleu chef.

Heading south, Ms. Cheezious roams the streets of Miami, offering unique sea-inspired creations like the Crabby Cheese Melt, made with crab salad and Sharp Cheddar.

On the East Coast, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Boston, gained notoriety by nearly winning the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” and features indulgent creations like the Green Muenster, made with guacamole, and, of course, Muenster.

At Morris Grilled Cheese, New York, its Beer & Brats sandwich is crammed full with bratwurst, Ale Cheddar and hops aioli.

All of these options surged across the country in the past few years from roots in Los Angeles, and namely from the very first food truck dedicated to the sandwich: The Grilled Cheese Truck.

For David Danhi, founder and chief creative officer, The Grilled Cheese Truck, inspiration hit at the 7th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitation in Los Angeles.

“I had been working in the Los Angeles restaurant scene for nearly 30 years and have acted as executive chef at high-end restaurants for years,” Danhi says. “But until that day I had never been in the competition and thought it would be a fun Sunday.”

After seeing thousands pay homage to the sandwich at the competition, he decided the grilled cheese sandwich needed to be brought to the streets, and rolled out the first truck publicly in November 2009.

“I thought we would be busy when we started,” Danhi says. “Gourmet trucks had just started trending and no one was really sure what was going to happen.”

Now, almost five years later, The Grilled Cheese Truck is present across the Los Angeles area and other parts of southern California, and Phoenix. Danhi also is reworking trucks in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, that debuted there last summer. He plans to continue to expand to Dallas and beyond.

Danhi keeps his menus local. His main goal is to keep the creations to a certain price point, and he finds inspiration walking through food and cheese shops.

“I keep the menu simple,” Danhi says. “I don’t want someone to walk up and not know how to pronounce the name of a cheese. I change the menu on a seasonal basis, but a spicy cheese, Brie and Cheddar will always be offered.”

The truck’s menu includes a plain and simple melt on French or wheat bread with a selection of cheeses, a Pretzel Melt on pretzel bread, Roast Brie Melt on black peppercorn bread, Sweet Sriracha Chicken Melt on French Bread, a Goat Cheese melt on nine-grain bread and dessert melts.

Also featured is the Cheesy Mac and Rib. Stuffed with macaroni and cheese with Sharp Cheddar, it is accompanied by BBQ pork and caramelized onions. This creation was the sandwich Danhi entered at the Grilled Cheese Invitational in 2009.

Danhi’s truck offers up a myriad of additions like applewood bacon and roasted butternut squash, and sides like traditional tomato soup in the not-so-traditional form of a shot and homemade B&B pickle chips.

“By no means did I ever think we would reach this point; we’ve become part of pop culture,” Danhi says. “It has over-shadowed anything I’ve ever imagined.”

The success of The Grilled Cheese Truck is evident not only in its expansions, but in its social media presence as well. It appears to have the most followers of any food truck on Facebook, with more than 50,000 followers, and the second-most on Twitter, with more than 71,000 followers.

Looking forward, Danhi has plans to offer opportunities to veterans by franchising 100 trucks to veterans, starting in San Antonio.

“I had a choice of continuing to putt around Los Angeles, or to do something good,” Danhi says. “Now it’s about doing what’s best for our veterans.”

Meanwhile, Melted: An Urban Grilled Cheese Shop, owned by Cindy Criscitiello, is set to debut today in Madison, Wis. It was ranked as the highest-debuting new venture at the city of Madison cart review last fall.

The Madison food cart ranking is based on a two-week evaluation and trucks are judged on the food itself, the cart’s appearance and originality. Seniority also plays a factor and any health code violations are subtracted to produce the final score. This ranking assists in giving out sites for the following year and if a cart scores below a certain level, it is denied a vending permit altogether.

Even without spending a second officially vending, Melted landed in seventh place overall out of 53 entries for the 2013 ranking. Based on the judging of food only, Melted came in fourth, and if the overall scores did not include seniority or demerits, Melted would have achieved first place.

“It was unreal to have that sort of backing,” Criscitiello says. “I am excited and terrified. Cooking is something I love that I learned from my mom and do for my daughter.”

Criscitiello spent time in Alaska selling a macaroni and cheese dish in tent pop-ups at summer festivals, but when she moved to Madison, she switched her focus to grilled cheese.

“I did the Alaska thing and got kind of a cult following,” Criscitiello says. “I really want to continue with this, it’s where my path is leading me and it’s fun.”

She plans on having a new special every week, in addition to approximately five regular menu items. She will use local produce, meats and cheeses. Criscitiello will hand-slice bread she attains from Batch Bakehouse, Madison, Wis.

“I want my creations to be fun and user-friendly — the funkier the better,” Criscitiello says.

Melted will feature the Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese — grilled on sourdough with Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, pickled jalapeños, and drizzled with house-made ranch.

A Glazed Doughnut Grilled Cheese will be a staple on the menu made with Triple Creme Brie, raspberry jam and applewood smoked bacon — grilled on a glazed doughnut from Greenbush Bakery, Madison, Wis.

Criscitiello also developed a loaded hot dog-style sandwich with a choice of Muenster, Extra Sharp Cheddar or Swiss, with a sliced and seared hot dog with jalapeño and a choice of condiments.

The hot dog and buffalo chicken melts went over really well at the soft opening, she adds.
In the mix also will be cold salads and tater tots. Criscitiello plans to offer fire-roasted shots of tomato soup for a side option.

“I use Wisconsin cheese as much as possible,” Criscitiello says. “I am a proponent for buying locally and plan to use other local businesses and to get produce from the farmers’ market as often as I can.”


Schreiber plans to expand
dairy plant in Missouri

April 18, 2014

By Rena Archwamety

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Schreiber Foods Inc. recently confirmed that it is planning to expand one of its dairy product plants in Carthage, Mo. The Green Bay, Wis.-based company has two plants and two distribution centers in Carthage, employing a total of about 800 people.

“We will be installing multiple lines,” says Andrew Tobisch, director of communications, Schreiber Foods. “The expansion will enable us to leverage technology and be more competitive in the marketplace.”

Tobisch says the expansion will add more than 100 jobs to the plant, which already employs approximately 300 people. A significant number of those jobs will be filled by those who are transferring from other Schreiber locations.

“Most of it will be renovation work, adding lines inside the building. There is not a lot of brick and mortar,” Tobisch says of the expansion, which is anticipated to wrap up late spring to early summer 2015.

The plant is located on the same site as one of Schreiber’s distribution centers in Carthage, and Tobisch says this will allow the company to better serve its customers.

“This is ultimately centered on our customers, providing them with high-quality products and exceptional business solutions,” he says.


Omega Valley Farmers taps into healthier-for-you market

By Kate Sander

DORCHESTER, Wis. — While cheese is full of good-for-you nutrients, efforts over the years to add a new “healthy” edge to cheese have had mixed results. Limited markets notwithstanding, reduced-fat and no-fat cheeses haven’t really taken off. Meanwhile, efforts to add fish oils with omega-3s — polyunsaturated fatty acids that are considered heart-healthy but aren’t typically found in dairy — resulted in cheese that was, well, a bit fishy.

Enter Heartland Cooperative Services, a feed cooperative based in Clark County, Wis., whose executives decided about four years ago to work on developing a new feeding plan for cows using a flax-based program promoting plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. While flax has long been used in dairy cattle in some form, too much also can result in off flavors and colors in the milk or negative health impacts regarding cow health. Heartland Cooperative took the step of researching and developing a new feeding protocol, now known as TMR-PRO (Total Meal Replacement - Professional). With just the right mix of omega-3 and other ingredients, the co-op says the feeding program results in milk, straight from the cow, with higher levels of omega-3. Blind taste tests were conducted to ensure objective flavor analysis and that the end result was milk with a rich, natural flavor.

The co-op then formed Omega Valley Farmers LLC, teaming up with Nasonville Dairy, Marshfield, Wis., for production of various dairy cheese products with higher levels of omega-3s. The first cheeses were launched in 2012, and Omega Valley Farmers now features an expanding line of omega-3 cheeses that are available locally, with the expectation that these cheeses soon will be available nationally.

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Planning, consistency key
to successful brand update

April 11, 2014

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — When a company seeks to update its image, just changing its logo isn’t enough.

Steve Blue, a business growth authority with more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience, says companies must be clear that a brand is not just a logo. A brand is the sum total of the messages, interactions and experiences a customer has with a company’s product, services and people.

“The best reason to rebrand a company is if the brand you currently have doesn’t serve you well, or doesn’t communicate to the marketplace the value proposition you bring,” he says.

Blue, who is CEO of Miller Ingenuity, a railway component solutions company based in Winona, Minn., uses his company as an example. Formerly Miller Felpax, the company changed its name last summer to encompass the wider range of products and services it now offers.

“Miller Felpax launched 60 years ago, but the name represented only 2 percent of our sales today. What we are and what we do is so much more than that,” Blue says.

Another company that recently changed its name to better represent its product line is Vermont Creamery, which simplified its name from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery last fall. While the company still makes fresh and aged goat cheeses, Crème Fraîche, Mascarpone and cultured butter, it wanted to further simplify the company name to reflect the freshness and simplicity of its products.

Vermont Creamery’s marketing coordinator, FM Muñoz, says for many years the company has been working to build a brand and name that reflect its values and product line.

“In 2009, when we changed our name to Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery (from Vermont Butter and Cheese Co.), we were aiming to better represent the size of our business,” he says. “The word “company” made us sound much bigger than we were — we still have fewer than 50 employees.”

He notes that even when then company made that change in 2009, it had a long-term vision of removing “butter and cheese” from its name for many reasons, but primarily for its customers.

“For many, ‘butter and cheese’ became ‘butter cheese,’ and we spent a lot of time explaining that there is no butter in our cheese,” he says. “Our old names were a mouthful. ‘Vermont Creamery’ reflects the simplicity of our ingredients, our humble origins as a producer, and most importantly, the inextricable relationship between the Creamery and Vermont.”

The name change reflects a larger strategic focus on building Vermont Creamery’s brand, and the simpler name resonates with customers and is easy to remember, Muñoz says.

Though it will take some time to complete the transition — Vermont Creamery’s new packaging won’t hit the retail level until mid-2014, and many long-time customers likely will still refer to the company as ‘VBCC’ for many years — Muñoz says the feedback so far on the name change has been positive.

Blue says unfortunately there are a lot more examples of bad branding decisions than good ones. He says one horrible reason to rebrand is if a company is simply putting a new face on an old operational problem. JCPenney’s attempt to rebrand its department stores a couple of years ago, he says, did not change poor customer service and execution.

“You never want to put a branding band-aid on an operational problem, where you come up with a new brand and hope people forget about how bad you are,” Blue says.

On the flip-side, he says companies shouldn’t try to fix what’s not broken. For example, Coca-Cola learned this lesson in 1985 when it decided to re-stage its iconic brand with “New Coke.”

“The public was outraged and let Coca-Cola know they didn’t want a ‘new’ Coke,” he says. “They wanted their old Coke, literally a quintessential icon in American popular culture. Coke responded within a few months and brought back ‘Classic Coke.’”

If rebranding is done wrong, you’ll know it immediately, but if you do it right, it will probably be a couple of years before you’ll see a return investment on it, Blue says. Therefore, one of the most important things a company can do is invest time, research and money to make sure it’s done right.

Depending on the size of a company, it can be difficult to justify, but if they can, they should consider hiring a branding expert to help guide them through the process step-by-step, Blue suggests. They also can hire a strategic communications expert to help convey the company’s new brand to the public.

“If you can’t afford this, find a really good book and follow its advice step-by-step. Brand Against the Machine is one I recommend,” Blue says. “Learn about it. There are plenty of books that are good. Completely understand what branding is, what the elements are, and become an expert at branding before fussing with the one you’ve got.”

Blue suggests that even if a company is just thinking about a rebranding process, it should make sure to plug in all its constituents, from shareholders and customers to employees and employers. It should make sure all these people know what the brand is, and what it is communicating from both an external and internal point of view.

He adds that companies need to understand that a brand is not just a logo or a tag line — it’s the totality of what they are communicating to the marketplace. Many companies, he says, overlook the consistency of their message.

“Every logo, mark and message to the marketplace should express that value proposition,” he says. “Companies sometimes throw out a logo, thinking it sounds good and looks good, and it might be catchy, but it’s just a logo. There should be a message they are communicating to the marketplace. Your closest customers might know what you do, but you’re also trying to get at people who are not your customers to let them know what you do, and express the totality of what you do.”

Blue says in the cheese and dairy marketplace, there is a great opportunity for a company to differentiate its product for people who might make the assumption that “cheese is cheese” through smart branding.

“Sell the features of a product that customers perceive only you have and the competitor doesn’t with a creative brand,” he says.

While Kraft Foods’ Philadelphia cream cheese brand is not changing its name, it recently updated the formulation and packaging of its flavored cream cheese spreads to help them stand out and appeal to consumers who are increasingly seeking out more recognizable ingredients lists. The brand has added more real fruits and vegetables to its flavored spreads, and it now features 22 varieties that have no artificial flavors.

Christopher Urban, senior brand manager for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, says this “product renovation” is the first major change the brand has made to its cream cheese spreads in nearly three decades.

“We are always looking to improve and meet the needs of our consumers, while still maintaining the quality, taste and integrity of our products,” Urban says. “This change is part of our ongoing journey to provide more products with simpler ingredient lines.”

In addition to enhancing the spreads, Philadelphia wanted simple, fresh packaging to complement its product line. New stackable container shapes prevent the packages from shifting on store shelves, making it easier for consumers to spot different varieties. The company also added new high-impact graphics to showcase the product inside.

“We are proud to give our fans more real fruits and vegetables in our spreads so that now, when they open a package of our Strawberry, Blueberry, Garden Vegetable or Chive & Onion, they’ll see juicy blueberries, vine-ripened strawberries, or more crisp vegetables, such as diced carrots, red peppers and onions,” Urban says.

Philadelphia is driving news about its product changes with a new marketing campaign, which includes TV, print, in-store and digital ads. The first television spot launched this week, the spot for its Strawberry cream cheese spread will begin May 5, and the spot for its Garden Vegetable cream cheese spread will start June 2.

Blue says when introducing an updated brand, companies should make sure they have a plan and time frame on how they are going to roll it out.

“It’s not just, ‘tomorrow we’re going to announce the whole darn thing.’ You need a structured order, rolling it out first to your employees, then your closest customers, then to those not so close and suppliers,” he says.

He notes that nowadays with social media, everything disseminates much faster than with old media — which can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Once it gets out into the digital world it’s out there forever. If a customer doesn’t like it, or if you didn’t do it right, it’s out there for the world to see,” he says. “But now, even small companies can punch above their weight in social media. They don’t need to spend millions on Wall Street Journal ads. They can do it for less in social media.”

A more deliberate roll-out will allow a company to measure its results and give it the time to make any necessary changes. Blue notes that the launch of his company’s name change was done over six months in a very controlled way to allow for feedback and mid-course corrections. It started with a teaser campaign and was announced first to employees and later to mainstream media, social media, the company’s website and directly with customers.

“It’s the kind of thing that has to be nurtured, managed and controlled,” he says.


Settlement reached in Tetra Pak
vs. Cheese Systems case

April 11, 2014

By Emily King

MADISON, Wis. — This week Tetra Pak Cheese and Powder Systems Inc. (Tetra Pak) and Cheese & Whey Systems (CWS) announced they have reached a settlement regarding infringements by CWS of Tetra Pak’s patented cheese vat technology.

In 2010 CWS, then known as Cheese Systems Inc., brought a complaint against Tetra Pak in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Wisconsin, asking for Tetra Pak’s vat patent to be invalidated. CWS argued the patent was obvious in light of prior disclosures.

Meanwhile, Tetra Pak argued that CWS’s vat design infringed on the central elements of its patent and demanded the company stop use of its product.

“We reacted to CWS’s claim with a countersuit for patent infringement,” says Tim High, executive vice president, processing systems, Tetra Pak. “We have had to defend from others taking aspects of the vats and have been successful in the past.”

Tetra Pak’s U.S. Patent No. 5,985,347, issued in 1999, involves commercial cheesemaking vats. Specifically it refers to the agitators in the vat, which are two-sided panels, one side with relatively sharp cutting edges, and the other side with comparatively blunt stirring edges.

“The actual patent is based around counter-rotation, or two agitators that turn in opposite directions, within the twin-shaft horizontal vat,” High says. “The original design had them going around in the same rotation, or co-rotating. Into the operation and review, we realized for certain cheese styes, counter-rotation increases yield and is a clear advantage over co-rotating vats.”

Second, the patent arranges the panel so that during counter-rotation, both panels present only cutting or only stirring faces to the common volume. The common volume is the space where two interconnected chambers overlap in the vat.

The ’347 patent explains that the key to Tetra Pak’s vat is not solely that the shafts counter-rotate, but that it is the combination of counter-rotation combined with presenting only cutting or stirring edges while moving the same direction through the common volume.

“This is the cornerstone of the vat business in the United States — it’s a core piece of equipment,” High says. “We have been developing it for more than 15 years and have several variants.”

The U.S. District Court judge ruled that CWS had infringed on the patent held by Tetra Pak. CWS appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which also recently ruled against CWS. The appeals court also granted a permanent injunction prohibiting CWS’s use of the cheese vat technology.

“We went through many lengths to not break any patents and believed we had, but the courts obviously found differently,” says Scott Swanson, president, CWS. “In the dispute over vat technology our engineers and patent attorneys felt strongly we had developed a unique high solids, twin-shafted, horizontal cheese vat.”

Swanson adds that CWS has nine current patent applications pending on technology developed for its vat.

As a result of the ruling, CWS must acknowledge the validity of the Tetra Pak patent and has agreed to refrain from making, using, selling, offering to sell, or importing cheese vats which employ the patented counter-rotating shaft technology for the remaining life of the Tetra Pak patent, which will expire in May 2018.

In addition, CWS will compensate Tetra Pak $2 million for damages related to its infringement of Tetra Pak’s patent.

“This was quite a big deal and defending this particular suit occupied a lot of time,” High says. “We have incurred losses as a result of CWS selling vats before the injunction and the cost of defending it.”

Both companies say they are glad to have the lawsuits concluded so they can shift their focus back to their own businesses.

“We are very pleased it’s behind us and that we have successfully defended our place in the market with the innovation we’ve been working on for years,” High says. “We spend a lot of time ensuring we don’t infringe patents, and respect intellectual property to the fullest extent. It is good to see there are consequences when this does not happen.”

Tetra Pak will redirect its spotlight to new markets and developments in contemporary cheese types for this upcoming year. CWS also is pleased to put the lawsuit behind it.

“We’re excited to get this behind us,” Swanson says. “We have a definite answer of what we can and cannot do. We will continue with co-current agitation.”

CWS says it has a lot to offer with its own vat and will be spending time looking to penetrate the small cheese company market.

“We have brought other new innovation to our cheese vats and have many accepted patents on our products,” Swanson says. “We’re excited to move on.”


CDC report details factors in
Crave Brothers 2013 recall

April 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — Substantial sanitation deficiencies during the cheesemaking process likely led to the contamination of Crave Brothers cheeses that were linked to a multistate outbreak of listeriosis last year, according to an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the April 4 edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Co., Waterloo, Wis., issued a voluntary recall in early July 2013 for its Les Frères, Petit Frère and Petit Frère with Truffles cheeses during the multistate investigation of Listeria monocytogenes. (See “Crave Brothers recalls Les Frères cheeses in the July 5, 2013, issue of Cheese Market News.) A total of six illnesses in five states — Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Texas — were identified in the outbreak, and among these, one death and one miscarriage were reported.

Of the five patients identified prior to the recall, all five reported they had definitely or probably eaten one of the three varieties of Crave Brothers soft-ripened cheese. Three had purchased the cheese at three different restaurants, and two had purchased the cheese at two different grocery stores. The cheeses were shipped as intact wheels to the three restaurants and two grocery stores, where they had been cut and served or repackaged and sold to customers.

Testing at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture identified the outbreak pattern of Listeria monocytogenes in two cheese wedges (Les Frères and Petit Frère with truffles) collected from two different grocery stores in Minnesota. The CDC report says inspection of the cheesemaking facility revealed that “substantial sanitation deficiencies during the cheesemaking process itself,” after the milk was pasteurized, likely led to contamination.

On July 1, 2013, Crave Brothers halted production of Les Frères, Petit Frère and Petit Frère with truffles, and on July 11, it voluntarily halted production of all cheese products manufactured at the facility.

CDC concludes that this outbreak was linked to soft cheeses that were likely contaminated during the cheesemaking process. It notes that while pasteurization eliminates Listeria in milk, contamination can occur after pasteurization, and cheesemaking facilities should use strict sanitation and microbiologic monitoring regardless of whether they use pasteurized milk.

Crave Brothers did not respond by press time for a request for comment. The company’s website noted in February that it had started making Fresh Mozzarella and Farmer’s Rope String cheese.


USDA increases production,
price projections for ’14

April 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — USDA raised the 2014 U.S. milk production forecast by 400 million pounds in its latest “World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates” report this week as strong returns are expected to encourage a more rapid expansion in cow numbers and increased milk per cow. The 2014 milk production forecast now is 206.1 billion pounds, up from 201.2 billion pounds of milk in 2013.

In the report, USDA raises its forecast for fat-basis exports due to higher sales of cheese and butter to 12.7 billion pounds in 2014, up from 12.4 billion pounds forecast last month. However, the skim-solid export forecast is lowered to 37.7 billion pounds from 38.2 billion pounds due to weaker-than-expected nonfat dry milk (NDM) sales. The forecast for skim-solid imports is reduced slightly to 5.2 billion pounds due to lower imports of milk protein concentrate and casein.

Product price forecasts for cheese, butter and whey are higher in this month’s report, supported by strong demand and price strength to date. Currently, the cheese price is forecast to average in the $1.985-$2.035 per pound range in 2014. Butter is forecast to average in the $1.760-$1.840 range, and dry whey is forecast to average in the $0.615-$0.645 range.

Meanwhile, the NDM price range, $1.830-$1.870, is unchanged at the midpoint due to the weaker-than-expected export demand for this product.

The Class III and Class IV milk price forecasts for 2014 are raised due to the generally higher product price forecasts. The Class III price is forecast to average $20.40-$20.90 per hundredweight in 2014, up from the forecast of $18.95-$19.55 last month. The Class IV price is forecast to average in the $21.05-$21.65 range, up from $20.35-$21.05 in last month’s report. The 2014 all-milk price is projected to average in the $22.55-$23.05 range, up from $21.40-$22.00 in last month’s report.


International markets signal U.S.
dairy price softening ahead

April 4, 2014

By Alyssa Sowerwine

MADISON, Wis. — While cheese, butter and nonfat dry milk (NDM) prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) all stood at or above $2 per pound last Friday for the first time ever, international and domestic market fundamentals suggest prices may soften in the weeks ahead.

This week already showed some softening in prices, particularly for Grade A NDM, which has sat at or above $2 per pound since Nov. 26 but this week dropped 3.25 cents from last week’s closing price of $2.03 to $1.9975 per pound.

USDA’s Dairy Market News says the NDM market tone is weaker as New Zealand’s GlobalDairyTrade (GDT) auction and CME prices dropped this week, causing buyers to shift bids accordingly.

“Some NDM processors are cutting supplies loose at lower prices, while others are waiting until the dust settles,” Dairy Market News says. “Domestic demand is weakening, but buyers are taking advantage of discounts available. International interest is marginally slowing.”

Dairy Market News adds that in the eastern United States, with prices easing, buyers are content with making hand-to-mouth purchases in anticipation of further price drops.

“NDM was the canary in the coal mine for the entire dairy complex bull market,” says Dave Kurzawski, senior broker with FCStone, Chicago. “Now we see material weakness in that market and shrug it off because of strength in cheese and butter. This is OK in the short term, but over the next 30-60 days it is reasonable to expect further weakness in the powder markets, and that will translate into a weight on cheese.”

Cheddar prices at the CME saw some downward price movement this week after reaching record highs of $2.3775 per pound for barrels and $2.4325 for blocks on March 24. Barrel and block prices moved lower this week to settle at $2.225 per pound and $2.35 per pound, respectively.

“Cheese is still choppy at record levels,” Kurzawski says. “Barrels are available, but fresh blocks remain tight to date, and that can keep us lofty for the next few weeks.”

However, he adds that U.S. cheese “is the most expensive cheese in the world, and as milk production increases in Europe and demand cools from China, we ought to expect to see a correction in cheese price.”

Indeed, Dairy Market News notes that dairy product prices are under downward pressure in Europe due to a significant increase in milk supplies, a stronger euro, weaker demand from China for milk powders and uncertainty regarding future trade with Russia.

In addition, in the Oceania region, Tuesday’s GDT auction showed weaker prices for cheese, butter and milk powders (skim milk powder and whole milk powder), keeping current U.S. prices at a premium.

James Dunn, professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University, says given the GDT prices, exchange rates and other factors, a long-expected supply response is likely occurring.

He says he doesn’t see U.S. cheese prices plummeting in the near term but would not be surprised to see them near the $1.80-per-pound level.

Mike North, senior risk management advisor with First Capitol Ag, Platteville, Wis., adds that “you can only run at elevated price levels for so long before the market does its work of balancing supply and demand.”

He notes that the two-fold impact of higher dairy product prices — curbing consumer demand and incentivizing farmers to produce more milk as milk checks swell — sets the stage for a precipitous change in dairy pricing in the coming months.

“Given the softening world market over the last two months, I would not be surprised to see our markets soften as well, thus confirming a top in the market,” North says.

Sara Dorland, managing partner with Ceres Dairy Risk Management LLC, Seattle, notes that domestically, spring is starting to come to the Midwest and East, and milk supplies are slowly increasing.

“Additionally, with nonfat dry milk markets weakening this week, it is likely manufacturers will want to slow production and divert milk to cheese plants,” she says. “These two events should help to expand U.S. cheese production during the spring.”

Dairy Market News notes that Midwest cheese production of multi-plant commercial cheese manufacturers is steady to higher this week, with regional milk production increases leaving adequate milk for plant needs.

“Most manufacturers are not sure what continued weaker prices might mean for orders in the near term,” Dairy Market News says. “Little consensus was offered as to anticipated price movement the remainder of this week, which so far has not led to any noticeable change in buyer ordering overall. More specialized cheese manufacturers have noted some recent buyer resistance at higher prices, and now they are waiting to find out whether recent price weakness will positively affect demand.”

Meanwhile, CME butter climbed to $2 per pound to close out last week. Butter this week rose another cent Tuesday but dropped a total of 4 cents Wednesday and Thursday to settle at $1.97 per pound for the week.

“Many butter manufacturers are wrapping up the last of the Easter/Passover retail orders,” Dairy Market News says. “The market tone is steady. Snug cream supplies and increased cream prices resulted in a few butter churn operators electing to sell some cream supplies, reducing production levels. International interest is ongoing as manufacturers fill export orders. Domestic demand is moderate to very good with anticipation of a slight back-off in sales after current holiday orders are filled.”

Kurzawski says that while the market typically sees some price relief in butter after Easter, he does not see the post-Easter price situation changing.

“We have to see more U.S. butter production come on before stocks will put people at ease,” he says.

Dorland says she anticipates butter prices will ease after the holiday and until the warm weather and ice cream season kick in.

“That said, similar to other products, this may not be the last time we have seen $2 butter this year,” she says. “Stocks are low, and exports early in the year have done a good job moving product overseas, keeping butter stocks in check. I would expect U.S. butter exports to tail off in (the third and fourth quarters of 2014) as domestic prices could be higher than other regions.”

North notes that while the ramp up of butter purchases ahead of Easter has given support to the domestic market, given the lateness of the holiday, both the calendar and the recent price declines experienced elsewhere in the world should work to soften demand and prices in the weeks that follow.


U.S. cheese production down
0.6 percent from year earlier

April 4, 2014

WASHINGTON — Total U.S. cheese production in February, excluding cottage cheese, was 850.6 million pounds, down 0.6 percent from February 2013, according to data released this week by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). (All figures are rounded. Please see CMN’s Dairy Production chart.)

February cheese production, on an average daily basis adjusted for the length of the months, was down 1.2 percent from January 2014. January 2014 cheese production totaled 953.0 million pounds.

Mozzarella was the most-produced cheese in February, totaling 299.8 million pounds, up 7.5 percent from February 2013. Total Italian-type cheese production, of which Mozzarella is the largest component, totaled 374.1 million pounds, up 3.7 percent from a year earlier.

Cheddar production totaled 249.3 million pounds in February, down 0.8 percent from February 2013. Total American-type cheese production, of which Cheddar is the largest component, totaled 341.3 million pounds in February, down 1.5 percent from February 2013.

Wisconsin led the nation’s cheese production with 215.0 million pounds in February, down 2.3 percent from its production a year earlier. California followed with 185.6 million pounds, up 6.0 percent from a year earlier.

The next four cheese-producing states in February were Idaho with 61.3 million pounds, down 4.0 percent from its production a year earlier; New Mexico with 58.7 million pounds, up 1.9 percent; New York with 54.7 million pounds, down 6.8 percent; and Minnesota with 51.5 million pounds, down 1.8 percent.

NASS says total U.S. butter production in February was 165.8 million pounds, down 4.6 percent from a year earlier. On an average daily basis adjusted for the length of the months, February butter production was up 0.6 percent from January 2014. January 2014 butter production totaled 182.4 million pounds.

California, the nation’s leading butter producer, produced 56.1 million pounds of butter in February, up 4.2 percent from its production a year earlier.


U.S. dairy industry applauds
White House GHG strategy

April 4, 2014

WASHINGTON — U.S. dairy farmers, cooperatives, processors, manufacturers and other industry leaders are applauding a recent announcement by the White House of a Biogas and Energy Roadmap to reduce methane emissions from agriculture.

In its announcement last week, the White House formally cited the work of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Sustainability Council, whose efforts in part include a partnership with USDA to proactively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including methane.

Through the Innovation Center, the dairy industry ramped up its efforts to build business value while reducing environmental impact across the value chain more than five years ago with the launch of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment in 2008. In 2009, the industry committed to a voluntary goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of fluid milk by 25 percent by 2020, increase business value across the value chain and begin work on innovation projects to meet these goals.

The Innovation Center in 2010 completed the first national greenhouse gas life cycle assessment of fluid milk that, in conjunction with additional secondary research, established that the U.S. dairy industry contributes approximately 2 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. (See “New study ‘sets record straight’ on U.S. dairy industry emissions” in the Sept. 24, 2010, issue of Cheese Market News.)

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, says the recent White House announcement “validates the path the dairy industry is on — one focused on proactive incentives that can increase farm income, not punitive regulations that would add more costs.

“Because of our recent efforts and farmers’ long-standing environmental stewardship, the White House strategy for agriculture includes a commitment to cost-effective, voluntary actions to reduce methane emissions through partnerships and programs,” Mulhern says.

A Biogas and Energy Roadmap will be developed in partnership with the dairy industry to accelerate the adoption of biogas systems and other cost-effective technologies. For example, the recovery of nitrogen and phosphorus, valuable soil nutrients, has the potential to make these systems revenue-enhancing for dairy farms of all sizes.

The roadmap will help the dairy industry seize these opportunities by:

• Breaking down inter-governmental agency barriers, providing dairy operations access to resources because it formally recognizes biogas systems as a proven and effective technology to mitigate environmental risks;

• Stimulating and accelerating research to advance technologies, such as for extracting nutrients from food waste and manure; and

• Attracting additional third-party investment, both financial and technical, to support the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment.

According to the White House, the roadmap will be released in June.

“This is great news for America’s dairy farm families of all sizes across the country,” says Tom Gallagher, CEO, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “For decades dairy farmers have demonstrated a commitment to environmental stewardship and adopting new practices and technologies along the path to continuous improvement. Our work continues.

“The roadmap makes good sense — not just for dairy but for rural communities that realize economic benefits, including job creation, through innovation,” he adds.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says USDA will help producers to implement strategies to cut methane emissions, including methane capture technologies like anaerobic digesters and biogas systems. Since 2009, USDA has provided $62 million in support for 93 methane digester projects across the United States.

National Farmers Union Senior Vice President of Programs Chandler Goule also praised the White House announcement, saying the strategy to reduce methane emissions recognizes that farmers and ranchers are important partners in the effort to solve the nation’s climate challenges. He adds that the efforts build on support for renewable energy production included in the recently-passed 2014 Farm Bill.

“Technologies such as methane digesters are underutilized but can significantly reduce methane emissions,” Goule says. “The strategy’s voluntary on-farm methane reduction opportunities, supported by financial and technical assistance, will add to farmers’ bottom lines and support rural economies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”


Bluegrass Proteins receives
grant for new Minnesota site

April 4, 2014

DAWSON, Minn. — Kentucky-based Bluegrass Proteins recently was named as one of the first funding recipients under the Minnesota Job Creation Fund, a new $24 million economic development program approved by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature last spring.

Bluegrass Proteins plans to create 56 new full-time, permanent jobs and invest about $18.2 million into a plant in Dawson, Minn., that previously served as an aseptic facility for Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI). AMPI announced in November 2012 that it was selling off its aseptic line, and earlier this year it laid off the last of its staff at the plant.

Bluegrass Proteins is in the process of acquiring the plant from AMPI, with completion anticipated in the first part of this month.

“The community’s very excited,” says Pam Lehmann, executive director of the Lac qui Parle County Economic Development Authority, of Bluegrass Proteins’ plans for the facility. “(The AMPI plant) had been a major employer in the region for a long time. People came to work there from multiple counties.”

Bluegrass Proteins will dry whey at the facility to produce proteins and permeates as a food additive. The company will receive up to $650,000 from the Minnesota Job Creation Fund. It was one of five companies named in the first round of project awards, which total $2.27 million.

“It’s our first plant outside of Kentucky,” says Billy Joe Williams, CEO of Bluegrass Dairy And Food, parent company to Bluegrass Proteins. “We’re getting into some new products outside of just whey proteins. It will be an extension of what we do in value-added dairy.”


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Today's Cheese Spot Trading
April 17, 2014

Barrels: $2.2575 (+7)
Blocks: $2.2800 (+5 3/4)

Click here for more market activity
Cheese Production
U.S. Total Feb.
850.583 mil. lbs.

Milk Production
23 State Total Feb.
14.917 bil. lbs.

Guest Columnist

Hedging dairy, from a quant’s view

Aishwarya D. Govil, Rice Dairy

Also this week: “Breaking supply chain shackles” by Howard Kamerer, WOW Logistics, and “Changing paradigm in the role of universities” by John Lucey, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research

Click here for our columnist archives


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