Today, Bob and I announced to our
employees that we are selling our company to Land O’Lakes, the successful farmer-owned Cooperative headquartered in Arden Hills, MN. After several years of searching for the right partner, we are thrilled to share this news. We are filled with a myriad of emotions: Delight that we have found a great partner. Elation that our baby Vermont Creamery is a great catch and a good fit for America’s iconic butter-maker. Nostalgia for those naïve twenty-something-year-olds starting an improbable enterprise. Energized to slow down and be present for our families. Relief that we’re leaving behind the stress of owning a business that isn’t so little anymore. Excitement that the future for Vermont Creamery and our team is bright and filled with opportunity.
Why sell now?
Bob and I are entrepreneurs. 34 years ago, back in 1984, we saw something in the future that others didn’t see. We asked: ”Why not make and sell hand-made cheeses from cows and goats milk?” We were undaunted and refreshingly optimistic. In our twenties, the risk seemed minimal as we cobbled together our $2,400 investment to make cheese in an outbuilding on a goat farm. Bob’s penchant for numbers and my intuition that Americans might eat goat cheese and crème fraiche (if they were really hungry!) fueled our passion and drive to succeed. Over the course of 34 years, we developed some scrumptious cheeses and enough customers to flourish as a business. We had just enough grit to clear the big hurdles of making a tasty cheese, keeping cash in the bank and earning a commendable trusting reputation with our customers. Who knew that this little company and America’s appetite for artisanal cheese would blossom as it has?
Today, we have a thriving and promising enterprise. Vermont Creamery cheeses and butters are sold in every state. Daily, we manage ten distinct cheesemaking technologies. Between the creamery and the farm, we employ over 105 people. We buy milk from 14 Vermont producers, 4 in Quebec and 12 in Ontario. We have accomplished a whole lot more than what we set out to do. Here is what makes Bob and me really proud:
We make amazing chèvres, crème fraîche, mascarpone, cultured butters, and geotricum rinded goats’ and cows’ milk cheeses;
We’ve stimulated a company culture that embraces transparent open-book management and rewards innovation;
Through solar energy investments on our dairy barn and improvements at the Creamery, we are hacking away at our carbon footprint;
Our B Corp certification requires commitment to higher environmental goals, less waste, and more sharing of our surpluses;
Through initiatives like the Vermont Cheese Festival and Cheese Council, we collaboratively lift all boats;
By building what we hope will become a model, transparent, environmentally conscious and sustainable goat dairy, we connect our working landscape to the good food we serve up;
Bob and I built a business partnership that has endured three decades of mistakes, triumphs, raising thoughtful children, and creating solid financial results;
We’ve personally mentored the next generation of Vermont Creamery, boy is their future bright!
Bob and I have had a good run and we know it is time for us to turn over the reigns to a team of terrific managers who have the skills to build upon what we have created. We have been intentional in hiring and developing talent at Vermont Creamery. We have already transitioned our day-to-day management to Adeline Druart, our 14- year French “intern” who came to America to learn to speak English. We promoted her to President nearly 2 years ago. Our leadership team is ready and eager for the opportunities of transition. They have a plan and a clear vision on where they will take Vermont Creamery. Equipped with the resources and expertise of Land O’Lakes, there is nothing they cannot achieve.
Bob and I do not plan to leave Vermont Creamery just yet. We will continue to attend industry events and speak on behalf of the Creamery. We have an inspiring story and love telling it. We will advise the management team through the transition. Most importantly, we will carve out the time to be students of life beyond cheese. There is a lot we’ve yet to explore and our spouses couldn’t be more excited for us to re-join them in the civilian world. Bob and I are both grandparents now, we are eager to spend more of our days at home in Vermont and less of them in distant airports promoting the cheese business.
Our work with cheese is not done. The Hooper Family will retain Ayers Brook Goat Dairy as it shoulders its way to sustainability. Our family is eager to help Miles and Daryll (Allison’s son and daughter-in-law) succeed on the farm. The Hoopers will call on Bob often for his financial counsel. We know that Vermont Creamery customers will still delight in visiting the farm. We look forward to seeing you there. Rolling up our sleeves to connect farmers with land and goats to milk is unfinished Vermont business that needs our attention.
Why Land O’Lakes?
We examined many options for fit and funding the future of Vermont Creamery. Land O’Lakes came with unprecedented enthusiasm. As the iconic company that made the butter which was in my family fridge growing up, Land O’Lakes has the know-how and resources to help Vermont Creamery realize our vision. For Land O’Lakes, they simply love what we do, our products, our leadership team, and our brand promise. And we are thrilled by Land O’Lakes’ desire to take our improbably successful family business to the next level.
Vermonters and our customers all around may feel a sense of uneasiness when a local brand sells to a larger company. We appreciate that sentiment and how this exceptional Vermont community has cheered for and supported us. We trade on the beauty of our landscape, the thoughtfulness of our Vermont practicality, our varied agriculture, and championing of humane causes. Land O’Lakes recognizes these values, shares them deeply and plans to invest significantly in the Creamery in Websterville, Vermont. The management team and all employees have been asked to stay on. Increased wages and improved benefits are scheduled and we intend to hire more production workers.
Land O’Lakes is dedicated to developing a local supply of goats’ milk. About 20 years ago, Bob and I each took short consulting stints to work for Land O’Lakes’ International Division. Our contracts brought cheesemaking, marketing, and business expertise to Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the West Bank and Bulgaria. We are familiar with Land O’Lakes’ values and effectiveness; they understand the sensitivity required in meeting a community where it is and finding synergy to realize a common vision. Bob and I were pleased to be sought out by the Land O’Lakes International Division then and look forward to similar opportunities for Vermont Creamery staff seeking this kind of growth experience.
Of all the emotions we’re feeling, gratitude is tops. We are grateful for the friends, fulfillment and independence that our careers in cheese and farming have bestowed. We are grateful for the customers, new and old, who invigorated our drive to be the best. We are grateful for our conscientious employees who have made this business feel like family. We are grateful for raising six children (three sons each) in a family business that started from scratch. They know about hard work, their privilege, and responsibility to make the world better. We are grateful for our loving spouses, Don and Sandy, who have coached and supported us through this transition. We are grateful, that the future for the business and community we have built has never looked brighter.