Thriving Ontario goat-cheese producer reaping the rewards of proactive commitment to continuous capital investment in leading-edge processing and packaging equipment
Time will tell if it turns out to be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) trend in the modern dairy-processing industry, but the soaring popularity of goat cheese and milk among North America consumers is the greatest news a company like Mariposa Dairy could ever wish for.
As North America’s second-largest producer of goat-cheese products, the Lindsay, Ont.-based company is confidently riding the wave of consumers looking for alternatives to traditional bovine (cow) milk for a multitude of health, dietary, ethical and other reasons—leading to creation of a whole new product category of plant-based milk alternatives like soy-, nut-, oat-, rice- and coconut-based beverages.
But for all the considerable innovation and product development that went into creating such products, none of them could hold a candle to goat milk when it comes to production of premium-quality goat cheese products that have already made Mariposa’s flagship Celebrity brand of soft goat cheese logs a household name in the dairy aisles of leading supermarkets and at deli counters across North America in with remarkable speed and aplomb.
Even more remarkably, the family-owned dairy—founded in 1989 by an enterprising local married couple Bruce and Sharon Vandenberg—is really just getting started in its ambitious drive to entrench itself near the top of the industry’s pecking order.
“We had 25 per cent sales growth last year from the year before,” says Mariposa Dairy plant manager Ben Brouwer, who joined the company 13 years ago and has been an integral part of the company’s transformation into a thriving and highly competent dairy operator with a firm grasp on modern processing and packaging methods and technologies.
Operating out of a modern, purpose-built 50,000-square-foot facility on the outskirts of Lindsay—a local business and commerce hub for southeastern Ontario’s famed Kawartha Lakes region—the multiple award-winning company has invested significant resources into its facility over the years, according to Brouwer.
In addition to earning and maintaining the vaunted global FSCC 22000 food safety certification over the last ten years, the company has also spent millions investing in high-end processing and packaging equipment to boost its capacity and productivity levels.
On the processing side, Mariposa has more than doubled its production capacity since the recent arrival of a brand new Handtmann model VF 838 S vacuum filler—a flexible and powerful portioner featuring the most updated hygienic design and boasting a filling capacity of up to 9,000 kilograms per hour.
Featuring smooth-surface design, automatic pre- and interim cleaning, and an ergonomic design to facilitate optimal cleaning procedures to maintain strict hygienic conditions.
A combination of high filling pressure and gentle product handling, along with stable portioning accuracy due to low-wear vane cell feed system, the new-generation VF 838 S was a perfect solution to accommodate Mariposa’s fast-growing production volumes, according to Brouwer.
“It has essentially doubled our production capacity,” says Brouwer, adding the Lindsay plant currently processes 26 million litres of goat milk per year, which roughly works out to about four million kilograms of finished goat cheese products.
“With the right downstream equipment, we’ll be able to process about 6,000 kilograms of product per hour,” says Brouwer, noting that the new VF 838 S machine also features many new leading-edge functionalities and networking capabilities than the company’s first Handtmann vertical filler, model VF 622, purchased about 15 years ago.
With the older Handtmann vacuum filler still in perfect working order, Brouwer says the Lindsay plant is very well positioned to meet its current and future production needs to maintain and grow its market share even further.
Much of that growth is currently driven by robust demand in the private-label markets across North America, says Brouwer, noting the private-label business currently accounts for at least a 60 per cent share of the plant’s total production output.
To help improve the product transfer plant of the production flow between processing and packaging, the plant also invested in a high-performance Handtmann FS 510—used to form bulk product into log shaped cheese portions—featuring an eight-lane flow divider to provide continuous product flow into the packaging area, which houses two high-performance MULTIVAC thermoform packaging machines to pack the fresh product inside high-quality Winpak barrier rollstock film in a broad range of sizes as per customers’ specs.
According to Handtmann, the FS 510 forming system is perfectly suitable for the multi-lane production of formed products of varying cross-sections and feed materials.
The highly versatile machine is capable of handling long, flat, cylindrical, disc-shaped, cubic, square, star-shaped and other intricate shapes over six to 24 lanes, as per customer’s requirements, with product diameters up to 80 mm and product lengths from 20 mm and upwards—offering maximum operational flexibility and modularity.
Offering high production output with up to 250 cycles (cuts) per minute, the system’s servo-driven flow divider accommodates a wide variety of product dimensions, while its traveling blade ensures gentle product handling and optimal final product appearance.
“The quality of the Handtmann equipment is really good,” Brouwer states. “I think the most important part for us is their sanitary design, as well as the accuracy of what they can portion.
“Like many industries, we work with very slim margins, so when the product is very accurately portioned, we can take advantage of that.
“The sanitary design is very important for us,” states Brouwer, noting the plant runs a sanitary shift every single day the plant is in production.
As Handtmann Canada’s business development and sales manager Rafal Rusiniak recalls, “Along with their regular goat cheese logs, Mariposa had the challenge of making small nine-millimetre goat cheese cubes, but it could not find any equipment that was capable of doing this.
“The Handtmann FS510 had just been developed at the time,” Rusiniak relates, “and we all saw an opportunity to see if it was capable of doing it.
“Producing small-dimension soft goat-cheese cubes is a very unique challenge,” Rusiniak notes, “and there were problems with the outside lanes being longer than the inside lanes.
“Ultimately the machine was chosen because our patented servo-driven flow divider can balance the pressure across all nozzles and create uniform shapes.”
Adds Rusiniak: “The FS510 was installed in 2016 mainly for the production of goat cheese cubes, but later it evolved into producing goat cheese logs.
“The Handtmann fillers and FS510 work seamlessly together through one control panel on the filler,” he points out, “the FS510 is also compatible with VF 600 series and new VF 800 series machines in the Mariposa facility.”
Designed to facilitate remarkably quick product changeovers, the new FS 510 forming system works exceptionally well in concert with the brand new MULTIVAC RX4.0 thermoform packaging system recently commissioned at the Lindsay plant—massively complementing its existing MULTIVAC R 245 thermoformer.
Recently launched into the market as part of the MULTIVAC X-Line packaging-technology platform, the MULTIVAC RX4.0 machine incorporates cutting-edge ‘smart’ technologies to optimize the machine’s performance up to the Industry 4.0 standards with seamless digitization, comprehensive sensor systems, and powerful networking capabilities with the MULTIVAC Cloud to deliver top-class packaging reliability, quality and performance.
Aside from just making premium-quality packs, the new-generation machine significantly contributes to the performance of the packaging machine by providing valuable data that can be used for further optimization of existing packaging procedures.
In addition, the machine incorporates the proprietary MULTIVAC X-Map to ensure accurate and repeatable gas-flushing for MAP (modified-atmosphere packaging) applications.
“The new MULTIVAC certainly has a lot of new bells and whistles that will enable us to keep on improving our performance further with additional automation,” says Brouwer, adding the company is already exploring ways to integrate pick-and-place robots into the packaging process to replace the manual hand-loading of individual cheese logs into the MULTIVAC thermoformer’s film-lined cavities prior to packaging and sealing.
Brouwer estimated that adding such robots to the MULTIVAC machine would not just replace the four people used there now for loading the fresh cheese logs inside the machine cavities, but also improve the capacity of those average output speeds from 160 to 240 pieces per minute—allowing those four workers to work elsewhere in the plant.
“This will probably happens sooner rather than later given the fast pace of growth in our business,” states Brouwer, lauding the operation flexibility of Handtmann and MULTIVAC equipment for accommodating the company’s fast-growing product portfolio that now comprises nearly 250 SKUs (stock-keeping units).
“The beautiful thing about goat cheese is that it pairs so incredibly well with just about any other food ingredient we can combine with it,” Brouwer points out.
While plain chèvre cheese is still the company’s largest single product offering by volume, Brouwer cites a growing list of prestigious industry awards earned by the company’s flavoured varieties infused with cranberry, blueberry, cucumber, lemon, beet, chives and other tantalizing ingredients to provide a highly enjoyable eating or cooking experience.
In addition to its naturally unique and tangy taste profile, goat cheese also has a plethora of health benefits to complement its healthy nutritional profile, including:
- High content of vitamins, heart-healthy fats minerals, and beneficial minerals like copper, which helps produce the red blood cells carrying oxygen from the lungs to the other tissues of the body.
- High Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) content, which plays an important role in the function and production of new cells.
- High content of fatty acids that are metabolized faster than bovine cheese, meaning the body feels full faster.
- While cow’s milk has both A2 and A1 beta casein proteins, goat cheese has only A2 beta casein, meaning that it’s easier on the body’s digestion system.
- Big source of beneficial probiotics that colonize the intestines and compete with any unhealthy bacteria or pathogens that they find there to improve the body’s immune system.
In addition to the extensive nutritional attributes and fabulous taste profile, goat cheese is also an extremely versatile product that can be enjoyed in a wide variety of ways, including salad and pizza toppings; sandwich and cracker spreads, pasta-based dish ingredients, and virtually any other way that traditional cow milk cheese is used.
This wonderful versatility and appeal is strongly reflected in market research and forecasts.
According to Data Bridge Market Research, the global goat cheese market is expected to increase from US$9.7 billion in 2021 to over US$14.6 billion by 2029, growing at the annual compound annual growth rate of 5.5 per cent, with the U.S. identified as the fastest-growing region due to frequent product launches with innovative flavours and taste profiles.
According to the research, “Due to its great nutritional value and along with being low in fat and cholesterol content, goat cheese, a common dairy product, has become a necessary component of many cuisines.
“Further, goat cheese is great for digestion and contains fewer calories, as compared to bovine cheese, and exhibits a rich nutrient profile.
“This in turn drives the consumption of goat cheese as health-conscious consumers are increasingly purchasing food products that help to improve digestive health,” the report states.
“Therefore rising consumer knowledge about the health advantages of goat cheese along with the increasing interest in gut health and improving diet are the key factors influencing the sales of goat cheese in the worldwide market.”
In addition, Brouwer points out, goat cheese is also a product that is very much on-trend with both the Millenials and the emerging Z Gen demographic group, who are both naturally much more predisposed to try out and experiment with innovative new products than their parents’ generation.
“The younger generations are definitely more willing and eager to try it,” Brouwer concurs.
“About 15 years ago, it would be fair to say that our audience was mostly looking for alternatives to mainstream food products, but today it is a lot of parents who are selecting goat cheese for their healthy nutritional and taste profiles.”
Like other progressive companies, Mariposa is always looking for ways to improve its environmental profile and reduce its manufacturing footprint, Brouwer points out.
“The roof our building in covered with solar panels,” he relates, “and we reuse a lot of the water reclaimed, from our process water, using energy-efficient heat exchangers.
“We are always doing our best to cut down our carbon footprint,” he says, “and I think we have largely been doing a good job of it.”
As for the plastic film used for the product’s primary packaging, Brouwer points out there are two sides to its environmental equation.
“I think it’s important for the consumer to understand just how much effort and energy goes into producing the finished log of goat cheese,” he states.
“It is a low-yield process, with 85 per cent of the raw materials that go into it being left behind as by-product fluids.
“That’s why it’s important for us to ensure that the consumers get to eat all of this product, which requires good shelf-life and the right sort of packaging to maintain that shelf-life after opening.
“So if your packaging is not right, there is potential for a lot of unnecessary food waste at the end of the day, which is also an important part of the whole sustainability debate.
“That said, we are working closely with our film supplier (Winpak) to see what can be done to make the plastic we use more sustainable,” Brouwer sums up, “but for now we need to be able to use the best packaging format we can to ensure optimal product shelf-life and minimal food waste at the end of the day.
“Our product deserves it.”
As Handtmann Canada’s Rusiniak happily concurs: “Mariposa has been a great customer for a very long time, and both of our companies have grown together from a successful relationship.
“They are a true partner, who have brought us into their planning and innovation efforts to help introduce new innovative products.”
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