Pass the Butter
A grass-fed dairy in upstate New York gets ready to grow.
Lindsey Jakubowski arrived at Fair Food Network’s 2015 Business Boot Camp armed with pounds of butter. The boot camp is offered through the Fair Food Fund program, which provides financing and business assistance to good food entrepreneurs.
The Kriemhild Dairy butter went over big with attendees, as it tends to. She has sold 130,000 pounds of it in a year, including to high-end Manhattan restaurants, without spending a penny on marketing. “They find us,” says Jakubowski proudly. That success is driving a $600,000 planned expansion. But so is the desire to be environmentally smart and sustainable by using by-products from the butter to make sour cream, gelato, buttermilk, and maybe yogurt too.
She also showed up to the boot camp with what she calls her “brain.” She admits her “brain,” a spreadsheet detailing production and inventory numbers, was not nearly as successful as her butter, even though she’d been tinkering with it for the three years since she’d made the leap from a job at Cooperative Extension advocating for agricultural innovators to actually being one.
“I had been spinning my wheels trying to put together a version that would cash flow,” she says. “It never would.”
But boot camp instructor Jay Friedlander, a former good food entrepreneur himself and currently sustainable business professor at Maine’s College of the Atlantic, saw potential in Jakubowski’s spreadsheet. As the boot camp was wrapping up, he encouraged her to apply for the Fund’s Consulting Corps support, which provides one-on-one consulting at a discounted rate to promising enterprises.
When her application was accepted, Friedlander himself became Jakubowski’s consultant and spent four days in Hamilton, New York observing Kriemhild’s operation. He already knew they had the passion, skills, and the core product.
“It’s the most amazing butter you will ever taste,” Friedlander said. “It’s so good that my 10-year-old son, who is no foodie, is like, ‘Can I have the good butter?’”
Friedlander’s first order of business was to persuade Kriemhild to focus on one-pound butter packages and make fewer five-pound bulk orders, a decision that’s already increased profitability. Then he got down to planning for the expansion, which required fine tuning of Kriemhild’s finances. The expansion is projecting to increase its payroll from one full-time staffer and four part-time workers to 10 employees in the first year, including seven full-time jobs. (All positions will be geared toward on-the-job training and won’t require college degrees.) And instead of farming out its butter and crème fraîche production to two different locations, Kriemhild hopes to do it all in-house in a new dairy.
Jakubowski and her Kriemhild co-owners, dairy farmers Bruce and Nancy Rivington, also plan to increase the size of their milking herd as well (they source milk for their crème fraîche from four other small family graziers in the area). They’ll double their production and add those additional products to their lineup.
Friedlander left her with a new spreadsheet they dubbed the “Big Big Brain.”
“I was building off work that she had already done,” Friedlander said. “We just kept it moving forward.”
Jakubowski can now plug in variables, such as seasonality, and come up with realistic projections for the expansion. “I’d had assistance from folks before, but they could never commit to the work the way Jay was able to,” she says.
She doesn’t want to waste a drop of that grass-fed milk, and thanks to her Big Big Brain, she feels confident she won’t have to. Talking to her, it sounds as though she wouldn’t mind ending the interview and getting back to the spreadsheet?
“It is fun to play with,” she says, laughing.
Mary Pols is an award-winning journalist who covers sustainability issues for the Portland Press Herald in Maine.
Federal funding for Fair Food Fund Consulting Corps work was provided by Local Food Promotion Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.