New Gloucester creamery gets big chance — to offer cheese at military commissaries

Cheese from Pineland Farms Creamery in New Gloucester will soon be offered at regional Department of Defense commissaries, a new arrangement that company officials hope will lead to greater things.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, suggested that Pineland Farms check out government contracting opportunities, and her office helped set up a meeting with Defense Commissary Agency officials.

Neal Kolterman, vice president of sales and marketing at Pineland Farms Inc., said company representatives made a number of trips to meet with the officials, hoping to sell its cheese, beef or potato products into the commissary system.

“The cheese is really what caught their eye,” Kolterman said.

The agency will be selling four varieties of Pineland cheese — Monterey jack, onion and garlic jack, sharp cheddar and feta. The cheese will be offered in 24 commissaries in the region, but Kolterman said Pineland is viewing the initial agreement as a door-opener.

According to the agency, there are 247 commissaries in 13 countries, including the United States. The commissaries sell to active and retired military personnel, members of the National Guard and military reserves, and, in foreign countries, Department of Defense civilian personnel. The commissaries are mandated as an agency to provide shoppers with a benefit that saves them at least 30 percent on products, compared to commercial groceries.

In fiscal year 2011, the commissaries saw a total 96 million sales transactions.  In FY2010, they sold $5.8 billion in goods worldwide, and had about 12 million authorized customers, according to the agency’s annual report.

“It’s too early to speculate, in terms of how impactful it will be financially,” said Kolterman. “We think the potential for some significant growth for our company could come from this.”

Kolterman said he thought if the four cheese products prove successful, it might open the door for broader distribution through the commissary system. And it might open  the door for Pineland’s beef and potato products, too, he added.

“Really the process is crawl, walk, run,” Kolterman said.

Pineland Farms is one of the Libra Foundation’s economic philanthropy programs. The creamery is right at the Pineland campus in New Gloucester, and employs 34. They source much of the milk needed right from their own on-site herd of 60 cows, but also buy all-natural milk from other dairy farms in a 25 mile radius.

Raking the curd

The creamery used to sell only at the Pineland market and through Whole Foods, but Hannaford Bros.  also picked up the brand, and the market has really grown over the last several years, Kolterman said. Last year, they sold a half-million pounds of cheese.

“The creamery is really blasting out of the local phenomenon,” said Kolterman.

They’re selling as far south as Florida, and out to San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest. Kolterman said he’s exploring exporting cheese to Canada and Mexico, too.

“This defense commissary deal is another way for us to cast a wide net,” he said.

The first order will be shipped to the commissaries next week, Kolterman said.

In a release, Collins said Pineland’s products “showcase the best of Maine — all-natural ingredients and small-scale agriculture.

“This contract will not only help support good jobs in Maine, but also provide a gateway to military families and retirees, who will discover and enjoy Pineland Farms superior cheeses,” said Collins.