As Canada’s largest and leading goat cheese producer, Woolwich Dairy has earned a reputation for the finest, award-winning products. Headquartered in Orangeville, Ontario, Woolwich has three manufacturing facilities and over 150 employees who are dedicated to making more than 50 varieties of goat cheese products, such as Chevrai, Goat Brie and Goat’s Milk Feta.
Woolwich Dairy was established in 1983, but the story goes back to Portugal, where CEO Tony Dutra’s mother, Adozinda, made goat cheese through time-honoured methods and supplied it to her village. When the Dutra family immigrated to Ontario, Adozinda bought a small goat farm and began to create cheese once more for her loved ones. When Tony’s wife, Olga, compared her mother-in-law’s cheeses to those available on the market, she suggested packaging the recipe to sell to the public. In 1986, both Tony and Olga left their jobs to take on Woolwich as a fulltime, family business, naming it Nova Cheese Inc. It was in 1989 that the former owners of Woolwich Dairy approached the Dutra family with an offer to sell them the business. The opportunity to expand the product line was enough to excite the Dutras, so they signed on. And the rest is history.
For over 25 years, Woolwich has continued to stick with goat cheese as its main stay. Why choose only one aspect of dairy? As Tony puts it: “I have always believed you have to do what you do best and master one thing at a time. We have looked into cows in the past, but we decided to stay focused. We thought we could do well if we developed a good business plan and the best possible quality product.”
Tony was right. Customers all over North America have flocked to Woolwich Dairy’s artisan goat cheeses, and you can find its products almost anywhere. “Every city in Canada and the United States will have at least two Woolwich products at the main grocery store,” Tony maintains. “You can even go up to Alaska and find our cheeses in restaurants and local markets.”
For Canadians, Woolwich goat cheese is available at all the big-box stores, such as Loblaw’s, Sobeys, Metro, Wal-Marts, Costcos, Whole Foods. High-end speciality cheese shops will also carry the brand. Tony advises that if you are looking at a big grocery chain, Woolwich products are located in the deli section, and “not in the dairy aisle, beside the plastic-wrapped cheese slices,” he laughs.
As Woolwich grew from a small company with a niche product to a medium-sized company with an increasingly mainstream product, there was a period where the Dutra family had to adapt to the expectations that went along with the shift. “It was really challenging at first,” Tony recalls, “because retailers expect that we can supply their stores for 52 weeks per year at whatever volume they give us. They also believe it will come at the best quality, but will somehow come at a reduced price.”
“The supply and demand aspect was difficult,” he adds, “going from a mom-and-pop outfit to a medium company, while maintaining service and quality. We had to learn to respond strategically.” One of the things Woolwich has had to do is run a strict production schedule. The company also has a database of all of its customers, and based upon ordering history, employees anticipate what orders are going to be in advance.
Although sufficient planning doesn’t always make up for last-minute orders expected for the next day, Woolwich Dairy has thrived in the expansion process, which is why the company is currently number one in Canada.
When asked what Woolwich Dairy’s plans are for the future, Tony was positive. “I’m an entrepreneur, which means I’m a dreamer,” he says. “I’m always thinking about where we can take the company.”
“Over the next five years, our goal is to branch out into different parts of the supermarket,” Tony adds. “We manufacture excellent goat cheese, but our brand is stronger than we give it credit for. When you have a strong brand, you should be leveraging it more. The goal will be to see where opportunities are and expand—for example, making a goat cheese pizza or a goat cheese sauce. We want our product to travel all over the supermarket.”
North America can look forward to seeing (and tasting) what the Dutra family comes up with in the future. In the meantime, customers will continue to enjoy the delicious Woolwich Dairy products already available all over the continent.