By Stew Slater, Staff reporter
Food In Canada Magazine, in its May edition, has recognized St. Marys-based Shepherd Gourmet Dairy as one of its top 10 innovative companies for 2012.
“We tend to change and innovate fairly quickly according to what our customers want,” said company president and founding cheese maker Stew Cardiff, when asked for his impression of why the magazine decided to include the company on its annual list.
The Food In Canada article chronicles Cardiff’s 2003 transition from banker to owner of a struggling cheese processor, and the company’s transformation since that time into a nationally-recognized leader in the production of cheeses and yogurt — initially from sheep milk but now increasingly from cow and goat milk as well.
“Our product is seen nationally and has grown rapidly over the last few years,” Cardiff told the Journal Argus earlier this week. “(The magazine’s editors) were seeing new products come out from us constantly — different types of feta cheese and different cheeses and yogurts.”
Last year, Shepherd Gourmet Dairy received a $1.3 million Rural Economic Development grant from the Ontario government, in support of a recently-completed $4.3-million expansion of the James Street South plant. That expansion — along with Cardiff’s seemingly limitless desire to perfect the production of dairy products that are currently imported into Canada (he twice travelled to Greece to study cheesemaking; a recently-introduced Bulgarian yogurt is, he claims, “arguably, as traditional as what’s brought in from Bulgaria”) — has helped Shepherd Gourmet expand its product line to 30 different “SKUs” (shelf keeping units).
More importantly to Cardiff, however, it has also allowed the company to expand its employee base, with a projected workforce of 40 once a Greek style yogurt and some other products receive their full launch by late 2012. The workforce on the region’s farms also stands to gain, he adds, noting “the trickle-down impact to the farm gate level” translates into about 50 family farms being assured of a market for their sheep milk, with other benefits accruing to the region’s cow, goat and dairy transportation sectors.