Central Dairies hopes its cheese will please

Becomes first local manufacturer to make cheese commercially available in Newfoundland

Published on June 3, 2011
Rocket Bakery on Water Street in St. John’s took delivery Thursday of the first batch of cheeses produced locally by Central Dairies. On hand for the event were Rocket co-owner Dave Ripley (left), Central Dairies vice-president of operations Dave Collins, Dairy Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Harry Burden, Rocket co-owner Kim Winsor and Central Dairies sales representative Steve Watson. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

After two years of producing cheese for other markets across Canada, Central Dairies is ready to satiate the local crowd with its product line of specialty cheeses.

It marks the first time, according to the company, that a local producer of cheese has made the product commercially available in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Its first local delivery was made Thursday afternoon to Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food in St. John’s, which will package the cheese before making it available to customers.

Central Dairies’ vice-president of operations, Dave Collins, said the company hopes to be able to handle its own packaging by August, and introduce the cheeses to major supermarkets across the province shortly thereafter.

“We believe very strongly that Newfoundland consumers will support a locally produced and manufactured product,” said Collins.

The company will start by selling seven varieties — Swiss, gouda, edam, feta, havarti, edam with fried peppercorn and edam with caraway seed.

As of this week, Central Dairies will also enter the Nova Scotia market with its cheese products.

Several years ago, the company found itself producing more milk than necessary to meet the needs of its consumers. Quotas for production are set by the Canadian Milk Supply Management System.

“Processing that milk in Newfoundland became an issue, because continuing to ship the milk out, you have additional freightcosts to get it to market,” he said. “The way to maximize return to producers in Newfoundland would be to process the milk here.”

This set in motion the business case to open a cheese-making plant in Donovan’s Industrial Park in Mount Pearl, where an eventual total of seven employees would produce up to one million kilograms of cheese each year, making use of 10 million litres of milk in the process.

“As it grows, we’ll continue to add people as our production volume grows,” said Collins.

Central Dairies, founded in 1976, employs 125 people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The first two years of the cheese-making operation has focused solely on selling bulk cheese to markets in Ontario and Quebec for either shredding, cutting or further processing.

“The markets are larger, the opportunity is larger, and our initial focus was to sell the cheese to pay the bills, because we have a plant to operate.”

But the intention was always to introduce the product locally. Collins said the specialty cheese market is growing nationally at a rate of 4.5 per cent annually.

Dave Hopley, one of five partners who opened Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food earlier this year at the former site of Auntie Crae’s in downtown St. John’s, sees great potential for Central Dairies’ latest offering.

“I think it’s going to sell well, because I think for the local community, Newfoundlanders like to support their own,” he said, adding that his businesses is always looking to sell more local goods.

Response from local restaurants about the company’s cheese offerings has also been strong, said Collins.

“Everybody is saying, ‘Bring it on. We want to support local. We’re buying all this cheese from all over Canada and the world, and if we can buy cheese from here, we’ll support the local manufacturer.’”

In addition to the seven varieties of cheese going to market, Central Dairies is testing a further 12 types, including asiago, romano, pecorino, fontina, parmesan, white stilton and fruilano.