(This story was first published in the Jan. 3, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
HARTLAND — In the last two years, Cobb Hill Frozen Yogurt has had a growth rate of 67 percent, according to one of its owners, Jeannine Kilbride. Last year alone, the business grew by 50 percent, an exciting prospect indeed for a fledgling company.
“I think people out there want a local product, something that’s made right here,” said Kilbride in a recent interview. “And if it’s available, they’ll buy it.”
Produced in small batches in a creamery at Cobb Hill Cohousing, a sustainable-living community perched on 270 acres of conserved land in this small town of about 3,000, the yogurt is made with local, organic and allnatural ingredients with only 5 percent fat.
“The creamy, non-homogenized whole milk used in our frozen yogurt is produced by a small herd of 20 pastured, Jersey cows at Cedar Mountain Farm,” said Kilbride.
Cobb Hill also uses the milk to produce its award-winning Ascutney Mountain and Four Corners Caerphilly artisan cheeses.
|Rick Russell Photo
Jeannine Kilbride shows some of the different flavors offered by Cobb Hill Frozen Yogurt.
The milk is first pasteurized and then turned into yogurt that, along with its base and natural, organic flavorings, are then processed into a batch freezer to make its frozen yogurt. Flavors include maple (the most popular and used with the farm’s own maple syrup), peppermint chocolate chip (with Dutch chocolate), vanilla, chocolate, coffee, and black currant.
“The currants are from Cherry Hill Farm in Springfield, Vermont,” said Kilbride. “I met the owner who knew what he was doing. I then decided to put them in the yogurt. It’s very unique. A lot of people don’t want to commit to buying it without trying it first. It’s an acquired taste.”
With a degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales in 2000, Kilbride moved to Vermont seven years later and took over the cheese business with partners Bonnie Hills and Sophie Starr in 2010. She established her yogurt company that same year with Donn Cann and three investors.
“We wanted to give our dairy partners some more business,” Kilbride said. “It was clear that we needed to buy more milk from our dairy farmers so that’s when I decided we needed another product.”
Step by step, Kilbride and Cann adopted, acquired and expanded their product along with help from consultants for the recipes, the money, and the equipment.
“We have a lot of enterprises here,” said Kilbride. “The vegetables and dairy are owned by one family, the cheese by Bonnie, Sophie and me, and the frozen yogurt with Donn and me and three others.”
A few of the secrets behind the success of the frozen dairy invention are the flavor, the way in which it is created, and its promotion.
“I’m out there selling it,” said Kilbride. “People see it and taste it and then return to buy it. They like the way it tastes, and they want to support us. They’re not just buying the product, they’re acquiring the story behind it.”
The texture of the yogurt is the result of putting little air into the mixture.
“The less that is put in, the denser the outcome,” said Kilbride. “Our yogurt is premium. And, we worked very hard to get the flavors right.
We use a lot of organic ingredients including the sugar, milk powder, extracts, cocoa, and chocolate pieces which are top of the line.
All the ingredients are of high quality.”
Kilbride said she has worked with a Dutch consultant who was originally from Holland who taught her how to make the yogurt without homogenizing it.
“We pasteurize it but don’t over process it,” Kilbride said. “I make the yogurt one day and then the base later, eventually mixing the two. The yogurt gets blended in and then I add the extracts while it’s spinning. A lot of the technique has been trial and error. It’s hard work. I’ve had to play with it for a couple of months.”
Kilbride said there were 18,000 pints made in 2013. All were sold except 200.
“We’re looking at business and growth,” Kilbride said. “There’s a level where we’ll have to cut it off. We can only get so much milk from Cedar Mountain Farm. We can only expand to the point where we have enough milk and not beyond that.”
Kilbride was hard pressed to reveal a profit margin for her company in the last two years. She said she and her partner just started pulling a paycheck and for the first time were also able to pay their investors.
“They’re telling us that we need to grow by another 100 percent in order to be in a good position to sustain everyone,” Kilbride said. “We estimate that will take perhaps three years.”
Sold primarily in pint containers, the frozen yogurt is available in food co-ops and food stores in Vermont and New Hampshire. Single-serving half-pint containers are also available in the Cobb Hill Farm Store which is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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