Modern victory gardens are cropping up around the country in response to COVID-19. When these makeshift home gardens first gained popularity during World Wars I and II, they served more as a symbol of resilience rather than survival. For America’s craft cheesemakers, the Victory Cheese movement could mean both.
COVID-19 closed fine dining establishments and a number of other venues normally serving up craft cheese, such as food festivals, farmers markets and more. Like so many other foods and products, supply for cheese was safe, but distribution was extremely limited, and small, local businesses were hit the hardest. Our very own Vermont Creamery is part of an initiative to support the cheesemaking community.
Vermont Creamery’s president Adeline Druart echoes the sentiment so many business leaders shared when the pandemic started forcing shutdowns: “In the first two weeks as we saw trucks coming back to us with 90% of their inventory we were just asking, are we going to make it?”
“We’ve been fortunate to not only have a diverse portfolio that was able to bounce back with strength, but also to be part of the Land O’Lakes family, which immediately pivoted the entire business with best practices to respond,” says Druart. “Not all of our smaller peers in cheese have been that fortunate.”
Founded in 1984 by two young entrepreneurs working at the intersection of independent cheesemaking and local agriculture, Vermont Creamery grew over time. It became a certified B Corp in 2014, a designation for for-profit businesses that focus on solving social and environmental issues. In 2017, Land O’Lakes, Inc. acquired the business. With national presence and the support of the Land O’Lakes enterprise, Vermont Creamery wasn’t subject to all the same struggles as very small, independent producers. But they recognized the need to stay true to their roots in that community.
Druart says, “We were first focused on keeping our employees safe. Then, had to raise our heads up and think about our cheesemaking community. As we’ve always said, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the entire cheesemaking community.”
“We were dreaming up ways to help our own business and thinking about the impact of the pandemic on the cheesemaking community, when [Victory Cheese co-founder] Steph Skinner reached out about forming the Victory Cheese movement,” says Kate Paine, Vermont Creamery marketing director.
The Victory Cheese movement consists of a task force of industry leaders, food writers, cheese shop owners and cheesemakers — all contributing their time and skills to champion America’s cheese during the pandemic. Vermont Creamery supported the effort from early on by gathering industry stakeholders to understand risks and needs.
Once the broader Victory Cheese group was formed, Vermont Creamery collaborated with group members to support its marketing efforts. For instance, Vermont Creamery played a leading role in drawing consumer attention to the collaborative’s first tangible product: Victory Cheese boxes. The boxes feature products from craft cheese producers who might normally sell to restaurants, now available for consumers at home to order online. Vermont Creamery’s products have been added to some Victory Cheese boxes as well. Plus, a portion of the profits go to a philanthropic cause of the cheesemaker’s choice.
Vermont Creamery has been successful in promoting the Victory Cheese movement. So far, the group has landed coverage in prominent media like The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and in industry trade publications including The Cheese Professor and Deli Market News. Celebrity chefs have gotten involved too, further promoting the message and advocating on behalf of local agri-business.
Soon, the collective will launch Your Maker Direct, an e-commerce platform for consumers to order directly from specialty cheese makers.
Paine says the mission of Victory Cheese fell squarely in line with what Vermont Creamery stands for: “We’ve always prided ourselves in the quality of our products and our place in a diverse cheesemaking community. We hope the impact we make is equal to what we make.”
Across Land O’Lakes, Inc., we are focused on providing food at a critical time for America. A healthy food ecosystem is a critical part of our nation’s security. Thanks to the hard work of our farmer-owners, our country has and will continue to share in a safe and reliable food supply.