MSU helps form Michigan cheese cooperative

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Move over Wisconsin cheese, here comes Michigan cheese. That’s what the 11 members of the newly formed Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative are hoping.

The cooperative will work together to market their products, leverage buying power and help each other through the challenges of cheese making.

The Michigan State University Product Center for Agricultural and Natural Resources pulled the cooperative together to “bring visibility to the fantastic cheeses made in the state by creameries using Michigan milk and artisanal techniques,” said Matt Birbeck, supply chain specialist and counselor liaison for the Product Center.

Funded by a grant through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Cooperative Development, the cooperative will help members market their artisanal cheeses to food stores in the state.

Challenges

Chris Peterson, MSU Product Center director, said forming a cooperative is right in line with the Center’s goals. It does, however, have a different set of challenges including the legal paperwork necessary to become a cooperative. The Center was able to work with Mike McIntyre, a well-known cooperative attorney, to form the cooperative.

Peterson said that banding together is critical for success as a small business. “Each of the members has a unique product,” Peterson said. “And that’s a wonderful thing. However, having your own unique product maximizes the workload when it comes to marketing, and it’s difficult for one producer to develop a portfolio of products. By marketing these together, members now have a portfolio of products which make them much more attractive as a grocery supplier.”

In fact, representatives from Meijer attended the reception to announce that the company would become an associate member of the cooperative.

Four members of the cooperative have been recognized for their cheeses, including Cowslip Creamery of Grand Rapids, Leelanau Cheese Company, Zimmerman’s Creamery of Ann Arbor and Greenbush Farms of St. Johns.

For more information about the Michigan Cheese Makers Cooperative, including a list of cheesemakers, visit www.GreatLakesGreatCheese.com. Information about the MSU Product Center may be found at www.productcenter.msu.edu.

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