By Stew Slater
With Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver being home to the most concentrated populations of people looking for the unique products that are created by St. Marys’ own Shepherd Gourmet Dairy, it’s not surprising that the company’s decisions regarding product distribution tend to put an emphasis on those urban centres.
But company owner and president Stew Cardiff says he never wanted the company’s decision-making to be dominated by urban realities. And this week’s opening of a factory outlet retail service is one more way Cardiff is working to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“It’s the number-one question I get from people in (St. Marys and area) about the plant: ‘Can I get the cheese at the factory?’,” Cardiff told the Journal Argus last week, during a sneak peek at the company’s new retail cooler, located next to the Shepherd Gourmet office.
Cardiff, a St. Marys resident who grew up on and eventually operated a sheep farm near Brussels, brought Shepherd Gourmet Dairy to St. Marys three years ago after a devastating fire at the company’s original location near Tavistock. In the years since relocating to a newly-built factory on Enterprise Drive (off James Street South), the company has grown steadily both in number of product lines and production capacity. Shepherd Gourmet now processes sheep, goat and cow milk into various types of feta cheese, yogurt, and ricotta cheese.
The company’s most recent product launch is zero per cent fat, Greek-style yogurt made from cow’s milk, in strawberry, blueberry and plain flavours.
For years, the general St. Marys and area public’s knowledge of the products being crafted at Shepherd Gourmet Dairy has been one thing; the general St. Marys and area public’s ability to purchase those products has been another thing entirely.
At times, the cheeses have been available at smaller grocery and specialty food outlets. But in recent years, with the increased production levels demanding that the company rely on larger-scale distributors, it has become increasingly difficult to ensure small-town grocery shoppers have ready access to Shepherd Gourmet products.
Now, however, thanks to what Cardiff describes as “a pretty modest” cooling unit inside the main office doors at the Enterprise Drive facility, all of the company’s products — either under its own brand name, or under the Krinos brand — can be purchased in St. Marys.
“I look at it as a service to our community,” Cardiff explained. “I live in the community; our employees live in the community. And they want to be able to buy the product that we produce.”
The company president adds that the factory outlet model also allows them to offer savings to anyone who chooses to purchase their cheeses and yogurt directly from the maker.
“Because so much of the cost that you see on the traditional store shelves is tied up in getting the product to market,” he commented.
The Shepherd Gourmet retail outlet is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.