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With The Move To A New Manufacturing Facility, Stickney Hill Revs Up Production Of New Goat Cheese Products For National Retail Distribution

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A major investment into a new manufacturing plant here at Stickney Hill Dairy will enable the company to go national with new goat cheese varieties and whey ingredients and robust plans for the future.

When the management team at Stickney Hill decided to break ground on a new facility, it signaled a commitment that the goat cheese company would fulfill its dreams to take its products to a national retail distribution.

With the commitment to expansion plans, the company hired Glen Wood as general manager of the operation to oversee the construction and set the company on a path for growth.

“With the capital investment that we are making and the plans of our ownership, we’re going to be able to offer this product from coast to coast,” Wood said.

The new state-of-the-art 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is located on Hwy 23 between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, MN.

The current operation houses three open vats, a Tecnal draining line, a flavor and seasoning line, cooler and warehousing space as well as a retail packaging line.

“We still have plenty of room to grow,” Wood said.

Currently, the new facility is operating at 30 percent of its potential.

Stickney Hill Dairy was started in 1999. The company ran a goat farm and manufacturing plant together until 2003 when it sold off the goats and concentrated solely on manufacturing.
Wood said goat’s milk has been pretty easy to come by so far.

We have about 85 to 90 producers ourselves, Wood said. “If I need to go outside of our patrons, milk
seems to be readily available.”

Supply of the company’s goat’s milk comes from within a four-hour area around the plant.

Like most goat cheese operations, Wood said the company sees a slight decline in milk during the winter months with patrons drying off some of their goats.

“We work closely with our patrons to get them to dry-off at different times, trying to stagger the milk flow to balance it out so you don’t see the big swings in milk intake,” Wood said. “It helps to maintain production levels throughout the season.”

Stickney Hill’s most recent initiative is the implementation of a grass-fed program which promotes open pasture and animal health and welfare. This program will be required on all farms that provide goats’ milk for Stickney Hill Dairy, the company said.

Food Safety & SQF Certified
The company broke ground on its new facility in November, 2015, and it took about a year to complete.

The management team took its time to study the market, get to know the players, and to establish a point of difference.

“It’s a huge capital investment. The management team doesn’t believe in doing anything little,” Wood said.
“It was the right time to expand and make the next step to go to a full-scale production facility.”
Wood came to Stickney Hill after years working in large operations in Idaho and Utah. For him, the project has become a passion.

“When you come from a large company, to something a little smaller, you get the opportunity to wear a number of hats,” Wood said. “It’s been amazing to see the development of a company and see the aspects of growth.”

It evens surprises him to see the growth of the company in such a short time.

“Once people see the facility, I think they will be impressed with the way it was put together, the quality.
We provide a clean, fresh, safe product everyday.”

Stickney Hill recently received SQF level 3 certified, and, as Wood said, is ensuring food safety aspects that others in the industry don’t necessarily have.

“We did a lot of due diligence on the backbone of the plant to make a safe, clean environment to make cheese,” Wood said. “We have a massive Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) that changes the air four or five times an hour, Hepa filters, UV lights throughout the plant, all ensuring quality air inside the plant.”

Wood said the management team made a concerted effort to have more control over the cheesemaking process, and took a leap of faith and made a large investment to do that.

“The quality of the cheese and our cheesemaking process is completely different than anyone else,” Wood said. “We have the controllability over these vats. We can acidify at different rates and that all goes back to the flavor of the cheese and how the final product turns out.”

Cheese Varieties & New Additions
Wood said the company is starting to get good name recognition.

“We’re probably not known very well right now,” he said. “We’re pretty regional. But nationally, as far as name recognition goes, we’re probably not known as much right now.”

Stickney Hill offers Chevre in four and 11-ounce packages for retail distribution and four-pound tubs and 20-pound bags for foodservice operations. The company also offers crumbles in 4-ounce and 2.5-pound styles for retail and foodservice.

The company’s Feta cheese is available for retail and foodservice in 4-ounce, 2.5- and 20-pound sizes. The company also offers a Mediterranean marinated Feta in 8.5-ounce for retail.

Recently, the company went through a redesign of its label, which Wood thinks gives the company a more national look.

Wood said it was important for the company to offer all the styles in both branded and private labels.

“We are starting to look at private label and have no problems doing so,” Wood said. “Private labeling and having those relationships would be a benefit. There are some pretty large players that can help build awareness for goat cheese.”

By the end of the month Stickney Hill will add a new thermoforming retail line enabling the company to offer three-, four- and six-ounce medallions.

“Once people see the facility, I think they will be impressed with the way it was put together. We provide a clean, fresh, safe product everyday.”
—Glen Wood, Stickney Hill Dairy

Besides the existing product line of garlic and herb, tomato basil, peppercorn, cranberry cinnamon, fiesta, and honey Chevres, Stickney Hill will also be unveiling a rather long line of new products.

“We’re going to be introducing a blueberry vanilla, a balsamic fig, mango habenero, and sriracha styles real soon,” Wood said.

Adding mixed milk cheese hasn’t been explored, Wood said, but he also said he could see it coming.

“It would add to the product line and that’s what we want to do.”

But the big introduction will come with this year’s rollout of the company’s Gouda and Halloumi cheeses.
Wood said the new varieties will be for retail distribution and cut in four-ounce wedges.

Stickney Hill Dairy’s new goat cheese manufacturing facility located in Rockville, MN, has ample room to grow, as the company owns adjacent lots. Located on a road that attracts 70,000 cars a day, the company is looking at adding a cheese store next to the plant.

Now that the plant is in full operation, Wood said it was time to get busy on the sales side.

“I think for us, we need to get our product in front of people. Once they try it they’re going to taste the difference between us and our competitors,” Wood said. We’re coming out of the developmental stages, we’re making a really good cheese and now it’s just getting it out in front of the right people.”

He said the company was talking with distributors in the Chicago and Detroit areas.

Wood predicts that in the next 30 to 60 days, Stickney Hill will have product in the New York market.

“After that we’ll take it west,” Wood said.

Although he wouldn’t discuss anything at length, Wood indicated the company was working with a celebrity on a project that would take Stickney Hill products into Idaho and certainly in Wisconsin.

“We’re working with a company with ties to a big celebrity,” Wood said. “We’re not releasing the name quite yet, but we would co-pack the product and we would be tied together with this company. It could really be big.”

Because the deal has big potential to increase sales, Wood thinks there is a possibility of locating another plant out West to fill that demand.

“I could see us building strategically placed manufacturing plants throughout the US to supply the marketplace,” Wood said. “We want to provide the freshest tasting cheese everyone could get.”

Goat Whey & Whole Milk Powder
Stickney Hill’s new operation is designed to collect just about every drop of whey. The whey is collected and sold at a premium, Wood said.

As goat milk cheese become more popular and more mainstream, Wood thinks the applications for goat whey are endless in regards to health benefits.

Goat’s milk is increasingly popular with consumers because it is easy to digest, has fewer allergenic proteins and causes less inflammation, Stickney Hill said. It’s high in calcium and fatty acids, but low in cholesterol and enhances skin appearance. Grass-fed goats increase these benefits.

“It’s a bold initiative,” Wood said. “We’re working that project and it’s there. We’re well on our way.”

Right now, Wood said he is focused on making great-tasting cheese, however there are definite plans to incorporate more ingredients to the company’s portfolio,

“As things continue to develop, I can easily see us integrating the ingredients side of it. Having the cheese side of things, and then adding to the ingredient side of things that would include whole goat milk powder. It’s definitely a point of difference for us,” Wood said.

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