Brand learning from a successful, artisan cheesemaker

by Nigel Hollis | August 26, 2019

What can you say when one of the founders of a company says, “My job is to create meaning for others”? I think you must give them a round of applause and admire what they have achieved because adding meaning is what turns a company into a strong brand.

Recently I was lucky enough to be part of a guided tour of the 22,000 square foot cheese vaults built beneath the hillside of Jasper Hill Farm. Our guide for the tour was led by Mateo Kehler, who founded Jasper Hill Farm with his brother, Andy. Mateo’s enthusiasm and passion for creating and aging great cheese was obvious, but what I had not expected – but probably should have done – was to be reminded of some basic principle of growing a strong, successful and sustainable brand.

Purpose is a guiding star

One of the principle reasons for creating Jasper Hill Farm was to support Vermont’s working landscape and, today, the business focuses its activities on an area with a 15-mile radius around the farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Purpose alone is not a recipe for success, it has to be backed up by great quality products and a sound business model and to that end Jasper Hill seeks to be a leader in quality and innovation in artisan cheese making. In addition to growing sales, that commitment has resulted in a string of awards, the latest of which was a trans-Atlantic double for its Bayley Hazen Blue. In line with their purpose, Jasper Hill does not just produce their own cheeses but also ages, distributes and markets cheeses for four other, local cheesemakers.

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Ecosystems are not just for tech companies

In our recent BrandZ learnings webinar we called out the fact that the brands that were growing value the fastest tended to be tech ecosystem brands that spanned multiple product categories, but ecosystems can be vertical, not just horizontal. To get the right quality of milk to produce their cheese Jasper Hill works with local farms and pays a premium to ensure that certain practices are followed in the production process. Jasper Hill also runs a herd of pigs fed on the whey left over from cheese making and now produces dry cured salami in addition to its cheeses.

The right partnership can be critical to success

In the early days of Jasper Hill, a cave-ripening experiment initiated by Cabot Creamery's head of R&D, May Leach, led to a Best of Show win at the American Cheese Society, and subsequent investment in the The Cellars at Jasper Hill. The Kehler's direct relationships with specialty buyers and shop owners and chefs at the time, made them the best fit for placing Cabot’s new cheese in the market as a co-branded product. After a monumental early sales effort, the cheese now anchors the growing collection, which has created opportunities for other regional cheesemakers and dairy farmers who work with Jasper Hill.

Overall, this visit to a small but thriving enterprise reminds me that the biggest challenge facing a growing business is to retain its sense of purpose and commitment to creating a great product, not just making money. Why do you think so many larger organizations under-value that commitment? Please share your thoughts.

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