Pine River Cheese announces it will end production by end of September 2019 By Colin Burrowes

On Friday Sept. 6, the board of directors at Pine River Cheese and Butter Co-operative announced to their employees that cheese production at the plant will cease by the end of September. “Clearly it was a very difficult decision to make, after 134 years of being in business,” said Ulrike Prehn, CEO of the Pine River Cheese and Butter Co-operative. “We’ve made great progress over the last two years, unfortunately it just didn’t quite get us to where we needed to be.” After a fire in 2010, the plant was shut down for almost a year for reconstruction. Prehn said a significant amount of the market share was lost during that time. Pine River Cheese and Butter is a cooperative of 16 dairy farmers who own shares in the business. “Since 1885, it’s been farmer owned,” said Prehn. “To this day, it’s farmer owned.” Market pressures and pressure on the gross margin, product and input cost, have been making it difficult for them to keep their cheese competitively priced. “We’ve had some great successes since we launched our organic brands across Canada,” said Prehn. “It was a nice success but a little too late. It’s very difficult to compete in this industry.” Prehn said it was a very difficult decision for the board of directors to make. “It was one of the most difficult meetings that we’ve had with our employees,” she said. Pine River is a small production operation with 25 full-time employees. There is remaining cheese inventory, and they will continue selling that through the store. “The store should be open until Christmas,” said Prehn. “It all depends on the demand.” Prehn said they have definitely seen an increase in demand since word of the closure started to get out. Over the weekend the parking lot at the store was packed full. “Somebody called it cheesemageddon,” she said. “One of our employees went in and she said she had never seen anything like it.” Prehn said they only get days like that during the peak season in the summer. “We did prepare,” she said. “We did make sure we had some product packaged. I did figure there would be an increase but we didn’t foresee what happened yesterday with cheesemageddon.” Prehn said they are very thankful for all the support they
have received from the local community. “We had a very strong following,” she said. “Many different people bought our cheeses even though they are premier priced, they are premium quality. We have a lot of loyal customers.” Progress was being made by the company in recent years with national distribution. “I would say it’s a coup to get across Canada in one of our major chains – in Safeway, Sobeys and Foodland,” said Prehn. “I just got off a call and the plan was to expand our brands even further. It’s sad.” Prehn has been dealing with a barrage of media calls since the announcement was made. “It was devastating news that the board delivered on Friday,” she said. “The landscape has most definitely changed and there are many factors which impacted this decision.”

Pine River Cheese announces it will end production by end of September 2019 By Colin Burrowes was last modified: September 11th, 2019 by Tammy Schneider

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