Taking the long view Featured

11:27am EDT April 25, 2003
The Minerva Cheese Factory is in its fifth generation of cheesemakers, due in part to its philosophy of taking the long view.

"The idea is to not get too high when things are good and not too low during difficult times," says Phil Mueller, a fourth generation business owner. "We take it one step at a time, looking at the forest, then concentrating on each tree one at a time."

Mueller knows first-hand the challenges of running a family business while incorporating family values. Only two years after taking over the business in 1976, he broke an agreement to sell all of the company's cheese to Kraft Foods.

Kraft wanted Minerva to make barrel process cheese, but Mueller refused because this method went against the traditional and natural production methods his family had used for almost a century.

Although the break meant his company lost 95 percent of its business, Mueller stuck to his guns.

"When times get tough, don't dwell on it; work longer and harder hours," he says.

The business has grown from six employees in 1935 to today, and Mueller continues to expand it by adding his children as fifth generation owners.

"One of our challengers is blending everyone into the business," he says.

In 2002, the company's output grew significantly, with production rising from 8 million to 11 million pounds of cheese. With the new technology, "we make between 40 (thousand) to 60,000 pounds of cheese a day," says Mueller.

Also last year, Minerva's baby Swiss placed first in Ohio in the 2002 World Cheese Championship competition, third in the United States and sixth in the world.

Minerva's gift box sales are increasing as a result of its Web site, www.cheesehere.com, which allows customers to choose from a selection of gift boxes or to make one up of their favorite cheeses. But Minerva also deals with large orders, providing bulk cheese for frozen entrées.

And how do you deal with all customers, both big and small?

"The challenge is to continue to be as efficient as possible," says Mueller. How to reach: Minerva Cheese Factory; (330)-868-4196 or www.cheesehere.com