Retro Organics (BioGro No.4900)
Retro Organics has made its mark on the judges many a time. In March 2011 the Gore-based cheesemakers were awarded three medals at the Jersey World Conference Cheese Awards then just a few weeks later scooped another three medals at the National Cheese Awards.
Retro Organics are proud of their point of difference: “We do everything from milking our own cows (330) to making our own cheese – and it all happens on our 250 acre farm.” Co-founders Lois and Robin Greer say this is why their cheeses taste better, and because they milk Jersey cows the cheese is very creamy.
Their business has been organic from the start and is now fully certified-organic by BioGro. They started down the organic track about 12 years ago. They stopped using chemical fertilisers then got to a point when they thought “we’re operating organically so why don’t we get certified?”. And so they did. Soonafter Robin’s dream of processing their own organic milk was realised. This meant they needed to build a factory. Nearly nineteen years ago when the couple bought the farm, Robin told Lois and their children “one day we’ll process our own milk here”. And they haven’t looked back.
Robin says the seed for their business idea was planted long ago. When Robin and Lois were in their teens they both lost their fathers to cancer. Since that time they’ve always questioned the quality of the food chain - what goes into it and how it might affect people’s health. Robin is a visionary so the opportunity to process food without any sort of chemicals or toxins in it has been an exciting concept for him to develop with Lois. “The fact that we own a dairy farm and can process the cheese ‘on the farm’ is quite something” Lois enthuses.
“Sure there are other people who make organic cheese but most buy their milk in, where as we’re in complete control of the whole process. This is very rare in New Zealand”.
Plans for expansion were factored in from the start. Robin’s initial plan was to build a factory the size of a double garage big enough to fit two large cars. Fortunately they ended up with a bigger (40x80metre) factory which has the capacity to process all the milk from both of their dairy farms. So the business has a lot of capacity but the biggest challenge is securing big enough sales volumes. They are confident that this will happen with increased recognition and exposure of their brand.
Retro Organics uses a small quantity of their milk for cheese production with the majority still being supplied to Fonterra.
“We started off as dairy farmers who knew nothing about cheese so we had to develop markets from nothing” Lois explains. “That takes a lot of time, energy and resources”.
Although the recession hasn’t helped, their sales are steadily increasing.
In addition to building a factory the couple have also had to learn about cheese making. They went to a two-day course with well-known cheesemaker Dave Milner. It was very hands-on and after that Robin did a lot of reading, and spent 1 day a week in Lois’s kitchen making cheese and yoghurt. They gave it to friends to get some honest feedback. Robin did that for a year or so then when the factory was being built he went to cheese school in the Waikato for a couple of weeks.
“We’re self-taught and have discovered much along the way. One thing we’ve always done in life is a lot of homework and research – we’ve talked to a lot of people” Robin says.
Always ones to be thinking about the next goal, Retro Organics is currently working on the launch of a stronger blue cheese. Growing the market for organic yoghurt is on its agenda too. So with a bunch of medals to their name, a strong belief in organics and a passion for cheese, they will focus on supplying yoghurt locally, increasing their production and growing their sales throughout New Zealand before doing anything else.