Organically successful – L’Ancêtre Cheese Factory sets the standard
By Perry King
In 1992, L’Ancêtre Cheese Factory in Bécancour, Quebec had its humble beginnings with 10 dairy farmers who were passionate about working the land and respecting the environment. Since then L’Ancêtre has become the biggest organic cheese factory in Canada, winning numerous awards.
The organic dairy factory, specializing in organic only, pasteurized and non-pasteurized cheeses — made from 100% Canadian milk — and butters, believe that traditional farming practices would offer the best quality milk, hence a wholesome, traditional flavour for their products.
But, technology is not something L’Ancêtre has left behind. As their popularity grew in Quebec, they have expanded their facilities to catch up with demand.
“First, we didn’t have our own plant, so in 1996 we built our own plant,” said their head of customer service and marketing Sophie Labarre. “And we’ve had new products almost every year.”
With distribution to major grocery chains — Metro, IGA, and Loblaws, among others — and specialized natural food stores alike, the company is making a name for itself. The factory went from a solely Québec client base to breaking ground in the prairies and British Columbia in 1996, Atlantic Canada and Ontario in 1999
“The difference between us [and our competitors] is the quality of the cheese and the taste of the cheese and butters,” said L’Ancêtre general manager Rock Bisson, who began at the company in May 2012. “People [keep] coming back to buy our product because of the quality and the taste.”
The factory distributes a large array of cheeses, mostly cheddar cheese. They manufacture organic unpasteurized milk cheddar that is available at different degrees of maturation – from mild to five-year aged cheddars. Also, they produce Parmesan and Swiss Emmental cheeses, also unpasteurized.
Their marbled mild Cheddar, Frugal, mozzarella 15%mf and 20%mf and goat cheese, as well as their daily made cheese curds, are popular pasteurized products, known for their authentic and rich flavours.
In Québec, cheese and butter is distributed by Aux Mille et Une Saisons, Damafro, Aliments de la Biosphère du Lac St-Pierre and GFS Québec and is available in most groceries. In Ontario, its distributors — AMJ Health Food Distributors, UNFI, Mike & Mike’s Organic Food Distributors, Ontario Natural Food Co-op, Pfennings Organic Vegetables, and Springbank Cheese — supply natural food stores and grocers.
In Western Canada, distribution is primarily handled by Pro Organics, PSC Natural Foods, Horizon Distributors, and UNFI. In Manitoba, cheese and butter are distributed by World Wise Food Distributors.
As a member of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, and through social media marketing, consumer and trade shows, L’Ancêtre Cheese Factory wants to spread the word about the benefits of their product, the importance of consuming organic goods and educate the customer. “We’ve made a good reputation all across Canada,” Bisson said.
The modestly sized cheese factory is a stalwart brand in Quebec, and they have stuck to their ideals through principle — not to mention their use of technological innovation.
“Organic agriculture prohibits the use of pesticides, insecticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic dairy cattle are fed with various grains that can consist of hay and a mixture of barley, oats and corn that are all non GMO, all our products are GMO and gluten free and most of them are lactose free.” Bisson said, who has worked in the beef industry for 11 years, as well as for other cheese producers for 5 years since joining the team last year.
Being organic, L’Ancêtre is considering the environment, the factory works to know their carbon emissions, have installed a waste water treatment and save energy according to provincial standards and more.
As a result, their factory has a decorated background for their work. In April, the L’Ancêtre Cheese Factory won the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix for their mild cheddar cheese — which aged at about three months. It was their second such award for their cheddar.
“We [also] won at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2011 for the medium cheddar cheese,” Bisson said.
In August 2011, the Cheese Factory was won an award at the American Cheese Society’s 2011 competition, in the salted butter category.
At its annual conference, in October 2012, the CILQ — Conseil des industriels laitiers, the province’s dairy industry organization — presented the Donat-Roy Award to Germain Désilets, one of the founders of the Factory. The award is given to a member of the CILQ who has contributed to the growth of the Quebec dairy industry.
For now, their business is looking to introduce new cheeses on the market by year’s end. “We want to launch, in the fall, a light cheddar,” said Bisson, of “it will be 40 per cent less fat than our regular cheddar (31%mf for our regular cheddar versus 18%mf for our light cheddar), and it will be an unpasteurized cheddar like our other white cheddars. The mild light cheddar will be launched in October 2013, the medium in March 2014 and finally in September 2014 the old one will join the “light” cheddars team.
Their success has been incredible, but as a small company under 100 employees, they need to maintain their position as leaders without sacrificing quality of their product.
“We want to consolidate the consumer gap, because when you are the leader, it’s very hard to stay there,” Bisson said. “We want to consolidate our position and give our other products to act more secure on the market before to think to expand in the USA.”