July 5, 2019
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Hispanic Cheese Makers-Nuestro Queso marks 10-year anniversary

FULL LINE OF HISPANIC CHEESES — Hispanic Cheese Makers-Nuestro Queso offers a variety of authentic Mexican, Caribbean and Central American-style cheeses for private label, foodservice and ingredient customers.

HIGHEST LEVELS OF FOOD SAFETY — Hispanic Cheese Makers-Nuestro Queso manufactures its cheese at a SQF Level 3 certified plant in Kent, Illinois. CEO Mark Braun says the company has built a strong team to provide top levels of quality and service.

By Kate Sander

CHICAGO — This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Hispanic Cheese Makers-Nuestro Queso, which was founded in July 2009 with the vision of providing high-quality, authentic Mexican, Caribbean and Central American-style cheeses to consumers across the United States.

It’s been a transforming journey for the company founded as a retail branded cheesemaker. While it has changed direction from where it started, the company is in a solid position to move forward into the next decade and beyond, says Mark Braun, CEO of the company and one of its initial investors.

“We’ve had ups and downs, but we have steadied the ship and have a clear path ahead,” Braun says.

After selling its retail branded business a couple of years ago, Hispanic Cheese Makers now is zeroed in on providing customized private label Hispanic cheese options for companies nationwide. The company offers an array of private label Hispanic cheese while focusing on sustainable and holistic business practices.

Originally founded as Nuestro Queso, Hispanic Cheese Makers was launched by a handful of investors and cheesemakers who believed they could fill a market need by producing quality, authentic Hispanic cheese in the Midwest.

Moving forward with the goal of building a national Hispanic cheese brand, the company executives soon found that to be an ambitious plan in a market segment largely characterized by local and regional offerings, Braun says. However, as the business grew, it received more and more requests to produce private label Hispanic cheese product. With that demand ramping up, the decision was made to sell the Nuestro Queso brand and change the company’s name and business model.

While the company continues to manufacture Nuestro Queso brand cheese, it no longer manages its sales, marketing or distribution. In the process, the company executives also decided to change the company’s name to Hispanic Cheese Makers with the sub-name of Nuestro Queso because, as Arturo Nava, marketing director, puts it: “That’s what we are: Hispanic Cheese Makers.”

“Part of our bigger story is our company’s efforts to differentiate in the area of sustainability. It’s a deliberate effort on our part and it’s not centered just on ROI. For the ownership of the company, sustainability is a core value.”

Mark Braun

Today, the company positions itself as a leading private label Hispanic cheese manufacturer focusing on high quality, safety and its extensive line of authentic Hispanic cheeses and cremas, Nava says. It also supplies products for foodservice and industrial customers.

Some of Hispanic Cheese Makers’ best-known cheeses include Fresco, Oaxaca, Cotija, Quesadilla and Panela for its Mexican line, Nava says, while for its Caribbean cheese customers, Para Freir and Blanco are the top sellers. Its Central American cheese line’s top products include Duro Seco and Duro Blando, among others. Each line, including cheeses and cremas, is authentically formulated to capture the uniqueness of each region and cater to the expectations of first and second generation immigrants.

Hispanic Cheese Makers produces its cheeses and cremas using original recipes at its SQF Level 3 certified plant in Kent, Illinois, and has a number of capabilities including onsite shredding and grating and innovative packaging knowhow, Nava says. Over the last several years, the company has won dozens of awards attesting to its quality, he adds.

Braun says the company works closely with its customers to meet their needs, noting that distributors have different needs from retailers who have different needs from foodservice.

“We have different programs tailored to meet their needs. The customer is the boss,” Braun says, adding that the company can make its products to meet varying customer and market specifications.

As part of its commitment to meeting customer needs, Hispanic Cheese Makers has developed products that are easy to use, Nava notes. This includes Fresco crumbles so consumers don’t have to crumble the cheese themselves. And while Oaxaca is typically sold in a ball, the company also offers the cheese in a shredded format for ease of use.

“We’re a company of people who feel good about the business we are in. These are some of the points of difference we bring to the table.”

Arturo Nava

The company’s roots in the branded business allow its team to leverage what it has learned to help other companies grow their own brands, Nava says.

“Convenience is important for both our retail and foodservice customers,” he adds.

Product quality is an essential part of meeting customer needs, and it starts with the rbST-free milk the company sources from co-ops whose members are part of the National Milk Producers Federation’s National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, which sets standards for animal care.

In addition, the company focuses on being a good corporate citizen. It is this focus that really sets Hispanic Cheese Makers apart, Braun says.

“Everyone likes to say they’re the best,” Braun says. “But the buyers are rolling their eyes. Everyone tells them the same thing.”

Braun says often the proof is in the cheese — letting potential customers try Hispanic Cheese Makers products and other companies’ products to see the difference. Beyond that is the fact that the company is truly focused on sustainability at the plant level.

“Last year, we spent $4.5 million on a new system for water reuse and purification,” he says.

The company is irrigating adjacent cropland with wastewater that can’t be reused within the plant, but can be re-used by farmers and does not tax municipal treatment centers. In conjunction with these efforts, the company recently completed the installation of its water purification system that not only creates water through reverse osmosis, but purifies water in order to use less chemicals and eliminates the use of chlorides to soften water. Other upgrades have included renovations to conserve energy by changing the plant lighting to LED, sourcing power from renewable energy sources, installing insulated high-speed doors on their coolers and upgrading refrigeration systems with more efficient systems.

“Part of our bigger story is our company’s efforts to differentiate in the area of sustainability. It’s a deliberate effort on our part and it’s not centered just on ROI. For the ownership of the company, sustainability is a core value,” Braun says.

“We like to tell the story of our company and our products and communicate who we are and what makes us unique.”

Arturo Nava

In many ways, this is just as important as product quality as customers become more discerning about how products are produced.

“The customers we are dealing with now are more aware and concerned about things like sustainability and animal welfare,” Braun says.

“We can focus on our products, but we can also talk about who we are and who we want to be,” he continues.

“We’re a company of people who feel good about the business we are in,” Nava says. “These are some of the points of difference we bring to the table.”

The company has been, and continues to be, built by everyone involved: cheesemakers, salesmen, managers, drivers, cheese packers, warehousemen, investors, marketing experts and accountants. Braun calls it a “diverse company” that has brought some of the best people together to provide top quality products and service.

“We have a great group of resilient employees,” Braun says. “We are continuously improving.”

While it’s not marketing its own brand, Hispanic Cheese Makers does a fair amount of marketing to potential customers via digital channels.

“We have a strong online presence. We want to make it easy for them to find us,” Nava says. “We like to tell the story of our company and our products and communicate who we are and what makes us unique.”

Word-of-mouth and trade shows, such as those produced by the Private Label Manufacturers Association and International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, also are important in reaching potential customers, Nava says.



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