Specialty Food Magazine

JUL-AUG 2012

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 201 of 207

(continued from p. 137) BRAND SPOTLIGHT COWGIRL CREAMERY'S BEST SELLERS Mt Tam Red Hawk St Pat Wagon Wheel $1.2 million cheesemaking facility in Petaluma, Calif. Because of unexpected delays, the new facility didn't open until February 2008, causing the business to miss the 2007 holiday season. The duo's careful business planning kept difficulties to a minimum when the recession arrived. "We were very cautious in all our movements. We paid atten- tion to our production," Smith recalls. "We're not aging our cheeses for a long time, so we can change on short notice." At the same time, Cowgirl beefed up sales and marketing efforts to drive consumer demand. In 2009, their line was picked up and distributed nationally through Whole Foods. On the promotional side, Smith notes the company limits its activity to a basic Facebook page. The staff focuses energy, instead, on working with farmers markets and restaurants and participating in events for local agricultural groups. Smith says that most of the retailers that carry Cowgirl cheeses do regular in-store sampling of the products. Today, 30 percent of the cheese Cowgirl makes is sold at its own retail shops. Overall, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of sales are from the retail side of the business while restaurant accounts (such as Cork in Washington, D.C., Bar Agricole in San Francisco and Ad Hoc in Yountville in the Napa Valley) compose the other 35 percent. Staying Focused While Looking Ahead Although Cowgirl expand- ed dramatically in the past decade, the owners haven't lost sight of why they got into the business. "Our values haven't changed. We want to pro- mote sustainable agriculture. It's our focus," says Smith, who is president of the board of Marin Organic, an orga- nization that focuses on pre- JULY/AUGUST 2012 179 serving farming and farmland in Marin County through sustainable practices. "We want to work with people like Albert Straus, who goes above and beyond to have good milk." Conley is equally involved in the community as chair of the board of directors for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Cowgirl applies the same standards when sourcing products for their retail spaces. "We have strong criteria for what we take on. We have a tasting panel; we look at how the product's produced and how the animals are treated. If they pass that, then we have a tasting plan and sit down once a week, taste new possibilities, and think about the profile and if there's room," Smith says. "We don't want so many products that we can't properly promote them." Today, Smith focuses on wholesale and retail while Conley handles marketing and cheese production. Celebrating its 15th anni- versary this year, the business is continuing to expand its product line; lead cheesemakers currently are working on a limited-edition raclette-style cheese to celebrate the milestone. The item will join Cowgirl's current collection of cheese: four soft aged and three fresh, totaling about 3,000 pounds produced per week. Although Cowgirl Creamery has established its reputation as one of America's finest cheesemakers, the owners continue to strive for improvement. "Sue and I still work hard every day," Smith says. "I can't think of a pivotal time when we sat back and thought, we can relax now. We're always looking for better ways to do things." |SFM| Deborah Moss is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated and Shape. Cowgirl Creamery's staff at the Point Reyes Station facility.

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