Q&A: Venae Watts, 5th Generation Minerva Dairy Family Member, Minerva Dairy  8/4/2021

Venae Watts, 5th Generation Family Member and Co-Owner at Minerva Dairy

Minerva Dairy is America's oldest family-owned creamery, making premium butter for 127 years. Through 6 generations, they’ve insisted on doing things the right way in partnership with local dairy farmers.

ECRM had the pleasure of speaking with Venae Watts, 5th Generation Family Member and Co-Owner at Minerva Dairy about the company, it’s products, and how it’s working with retailers to serve consumers.

ECRM: Describe some of your key products, and the consumer markets that you target.
At Minerva Dairy, we offer 85 percent butterfat butter in three different flavors—Sea Salt, Unsalted, and Garlic & Herb. The Sea Salt and Unsalted are available in 2-pound rolls, 1-pound rolls, and sticks. 
We also produce a line of B2B exclusive ingredient cheeses, which include Italian Varieties Parm, Romano, Asiago, Part Skim Mozzarella and Cheddar recipes based on customers' needs for performance of the cheese in their end product. 

We target consumers who care about where their dairy comes from and who produces it. At Minerva, we pride ourselves on being butter fanatics. Our consumers are invested in our history and process and are just as obsessed with butter as we are. Minerva Dairy meets the consumers' need for transparency of who is making their product and the integrity of that product.
ECRM: What is your company/products' "wow" factor?
We are one of the only buttermakers in the world that boasts an 85 percent butterfat composition in our products. Today, we still pack our Amish butter in 2-pound rolls, 1-pound rolls, and sticks like generations before us did. Also in homage to our family’s tried-and-true process, we make our butter in small, slow-churn batches, using milk from local pasture-raised cows. 
We’re confident that we create better butter simply because we’re better at making butter. We are obsessed with our craft and continue to pass our butter-making tradition down from generation to generation. As we prepare the sixth generation of our Minerva family to propel our products onward into the future, we are sticking to what we know best—producing the very type of butter that launched our family business more than 127 years ago. 


ECRM: How do you support the success of those buyers/category managers with which you work?
It takes a blend of available assets to create ongoing support of retail products on the shelf. The buyers and category managers know their retail chains better than the brands.
At Minerva, we try to engage in deep listening, understanding what works best in a given manager’s retail space and then implementing it. Having an amazing Marketing and Public Relations team on your side to help target new opportunities and maintain ongoing buyer relationships certainly helps. 


ECRM: What trends are you seeing in the particular categories you cover?
In the food industry at large, there’s definitely been an increased desire for transparency among products. Consumers are interested in who makes a product and the means by which it’s made. With today’s growing desire to buy ethically, consumers are more and more curious about whether the individuals who make, grow, or pick their food are receiving fair pay and experiencing fair working conditions. They want to know what amount of energy goes into the making of their food and whether it’s being shipped from far away or produced locally. In the dairy industry, especially, this has brought smaller, family-owned, and independently-run producers like Minerva to the fore. 
Consumers are increasing their awareness of quality ingredients through education. Today, if a company is not transparent about their practices, ingredients, or even workplace conditions, they are not paying attention. As a 127-year-old family run business, Minerva has always remained up front about our internal operations, sourcing, and production. We see these trends as positive and liberating, allowing our consumers to be in the driver seat when it comes to selecting quality dairy products. 


ECRM: How has COVID impacted your business, and how have you adapted to the challenges?
Covid hit the fast-forward button for us. Contrary to many family-owned businesses that found themselves with less demand, demand for Minerva products rose exponentially, in part due to the increased amount of home cooking that resulted from the pandemic. Suddenly, retail consumers became more careful about educating themselves on their choices in the grocery store. Food transparency trends became even more important as consumers tried to supplement the quality of ingredients they’d normally get in a restaurant at home, bringing focus to Minerva Dairy butter.
To keep up, some old hands from the fourth generation of Minerva ownership came out of retirement to help out the fifth and sixth generations. We also relied on equipment expansion to meet the increased demand. The pandemic really showed our team at their best—working diligently to keep the supply chain full and expanding production, even in the midst of unprecedented circumstances. 


ECRM: Where are your products currently distributed?
Over the past two years, we have made great strides when it comes to expanding our products. The West half of the US is exploding in opportunities with new warehouses opening up. From National chains  -  UNFI to Kehe, DPI to Regional warehouses.


ECRM: How do you see your category evolving over the next few years?
As mentioned, the dairy industry—as with most food and beverage sectors—is being driven by consumer-led education. As our target market becomes more and more concerned with the quality and origin of products, there becomes an increased need for transparency.
Not only is this increased education around food and dairy causing a need for transparency, it is also driving the consumer to pursue new buying habits. There is no longer the brand allegiance there once was—rather, consumers are becoming more exploratory, engaging in trial-and-error purchasing habits at the grocery store and buying specific types of products that align with different desired outcomes for home cooked meals.
By offering a variety of choices within choices, we can help create even more options for consumers looking to educate themselves. For example, a consumer that used to strictly purchase salted butter may start to buy unsalted butter after taking on a baking hobby. Similarly, consumers may purchase our sea salt butter to serve with bread and our garlic herb flavor-infused butter to serve with summer veggies freshly picked from the garden. 
Overall, consumers aren’t necessarily buying more butter, they are buying smaller amounts of each kind in an effort to hyper fit different home cooking needs.


ECRM: What's the best way for buyers to contact you?
Via email to venae@minervadairy.com.


Sarah Davidson

SVP of Grocery

Sarah Davidson is ECRM's SVP of Grocery, and can be reached at 440-542-3033

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