September 13, 2019
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Minerva Dairy celebrates 125 years
Company launches updated look, new product

UNSALTED BUTTER — Minerva Dairy’s naturally-cultured artisan butter comes in a number of varieties, including this unsalted butter ideally suited for baking applications.

BATCH CHURNED — Adam Mueller attends to a batch of Minerva Dairy’s artisan butter. Produced by slow-churning small batches of milk from pasture-raised cows, the company’s butters are creamier and richer than many others on the market, Mueller says.

By Kate Sander

MINERVA, Ohio — As it celebrates 125 years as a family-owned dairy business this year, artisan buttermaker Minerva Dairy also is launching an updated look and new products.

As consumers become increasingly aware of butterfat and the benefits of real butter, now is the time to increase consumer awareness of Minerva Dairy’s hand-rolled premium butters, say sister and brother duo Venae Watts and Adam Mueller, the fifth generation of their family to operate the business. They say Minerva’s products are the answer for the increasing number of consumers who are looking for premium butter products.

The company has been in business since 1894 and focusing on hand-rolled butter since World War II. Although the business has grown and evolved, some things — like the care that goes into each product — has changed little.
Minerva Dairy’s naturally-cultured butter is made with no artificial ingredients, produced by slow-churning small batches of milk from pasture-raised cows. The butters have an 85% butterfat content, as opposed to commodity U.S. butter that is typically 80% butterfat. With more butterfat and less air trapped in the butter than high-speed churns produce, Minerva Dairy’s butter is creamier and richer than many of its counterparts, Watts says.

The buttermaker buys milk from about 50 local family farms, ranging in size from two cows to 400 head. The company’s use of sea salt also sets it apart from other butters, Mueller notes.

“Our butters have a deeper, denser flavor profile … it’s more complex,” Mueller says. “It’s the exact opposite of flavorless butter.”

“Our butters have a deeper, denser flavor profile … it’s more complex. It’s the exact opposite of flavorless butter.”

Adam Mueller

Minerva Dairy was founded shortly before the turn of the 20th century in Hustiford, Wisconsin, by Mueller and Watts’ great-great-grandfather Max P. Radloff when he established Radloff Cheese. At the time, cheese and butter facilities were small due to the logistical difficulties of transporting milk. Over the years, Radloff grew his operation to 20 locations, and began moving cheese and butter instead of milk because they were easier to transport, Mueller says. Early on, the company made high-fat butter that was sold in bulk pieces of random sizes.

Eventually the business was consolidated, and in 1935 the family purchased Minerva Dairy’s current location in Minerva, Ohio. World War II was the impetus that grew the company’s butter business and its core products.

While the company continued making cheese — and does so to this day —it began making consistent 2-pound rolls of butter because they complied with government-mandated butter rations better than the blocks of butter most other companies were making, Mueller says. Using the butter rolling technique employed by the Amish at the time, the company was able to form rolls of butter to exact measurements.

Since then, 2-pound hand-rolled butters have been the company’s flagship product. The company makes sea salt, unsalted and garlic and herb varieties year around, and it also offers pumpkin and maple syrup flavors during the winter holidays. Additionally, it offers smoked butter that is cold smoked with maplewood chips.

“We’re a disrupter in the category. We celebrate our differences.”

Adam Mueller

The family is proud to be different from the competition.

“We’re a disrupter in the category,” Mueller says. “We celebrate our differences.”

Because it is different from so many other buttermakers and because of the resurgence in butter’s popularity the last few years, the time was right in 2019 to “rebrand and let everyone know what we’re doing,” Watts says.

Minerva Dairy’s rebranding features a “throwback retro pattern with a new look” in an effort to combine modern elements and at the same time highlight the company’s long history in specializing in buttermaking.

All of the company’s packaging features the colorful new look. In addition to 2-pound rolls, Minerva Dairy also offers its butters in quarter-stick traditional boxes and 8-ounce cartons with 4-ounce sticks. In a nod to consumers who are looking for high-quality hand-rolled butter in smaller quantities, the company also will soon be rolling out its hand-rolled butter in new 1-pound rolls.

“It’s our company culture to treat employees as family.”

Venae Watts

Minerva Dairy’s butters are available throughout the United States, with the highest concentrations being in the Midwest, the Eastern Seaboard, the Southeast and California. The company offers a store locator on its newly revamped website to help consumers find products.

Besides reimagining its website and branding it to complement its colorful new packaging, Minerva Dairy has contracted with a marketing firm to help the business connect directly with consumers.

As part of its rebranding, Minerva Dairy is engaging with food and recipe bloggers to develop dynamic new recipes as well as utilizing social media including Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, Watts says.

“We want transparency in what we do. We’re saying, ‘Here we are!’” she adds.

Watts and Mueller grew up in the plant, helping clean it and having discussions about butter over the dinner table. They are excited about where they are taking the business. As children they opened Christmas gifts at the plant while their father, Phil Mueller, who is now semi-retired, unloaded the milk trucks. They ate butter sandwiches as after-school snacks. Their family was always “all about the butter,” they say.

Watts and Mueller are continuing that “all about the butter” philosophy, between them raising 12 members of the sixth generation, some of whom already are involved in the business. They are working to instill the values of hard work for their children, just as the generations before them taught.

“There’s been a lot growth in the last five years in butter, and we’ve expanded to prepare ourselves to be able to handle more cream.”

Adam Mueller

“We grew up with the same type of work ethic as you would on a family farm,” Watts says.

Each year on Christmas Eve, the family would start sending shift workers home early and as a family they would take over rolling butter, Watts says. It’s a fun tradition that is ongoing.

The family also holds cookouts on other holidays so that employees’ families can join them during specially-scheduled longer breaks and spend time together.

“It’s our company culture to treat employees as family,” Watts continues, noting that the company also strives to give its 50+ employees flexibility to take care of personal business and volunteer in the community.

Minerva Dairy does this while processing approximately 700,000 pounds of milk a day into butter and cheese.

Branded retail butter makes up the bulk of the company’s sales, but it also offers butter for private label and culinary customers. In addition, the company still makes 40-pound Cheddar and Italian-style cheeses in its kosher and halal certified plant. The company got out of the milk bottling and ice cream business in the late 1980s to focus more attention on its core products.

In recent years, the company has prepared itself for future growth.

“There’s been a lot growth in the last five years in butter, and we’ve expanded to prepare ourselves to be able to handle more cream,” Mueller says, noting that includes new silos, cream pasteurizers and specialized equipment to make lowfat cheeses to provide more cream for its butters.

“Butter is hot; everyone’s looking for butter right now,” Watts says.



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