Just The Cheese is a family-owned manufacturer based in Reeseville, WI - population 679. The company’s 250 workers produce crunchy cheese snacks sold almost exclusively through Amazon. In addition to the challenges of keeping their employees on the job and their plant running safely, this rural manufacturer also puts a face on two prominent elements associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company’s first priority is obviously its employees. This led JTC to adjust its production schedules in accommodating a new normal for childcare and countless other worker needs. It also implemented strict sanitization protocols within the facility to help reinforce employee health and safety. These measures not only helped preserve a continued flow of income, but addressed key supplier concerns as well.
Just the Cheese is described as 100 percent Wisconsin cheese baked into bars and mini snack bites. “We wanted to develop a snack that tasted the same as the crispy cheese that drips on the pan when making a grilled cheese sandwich,” says David Scharfman, Owner & General Manager.
The product’s composition means it’s low in carbs, high in protein, gluten-free and shelf-stable. The ability to check all of these dietary boxes, along with being a cheese product that won’t spoil, and being accessible via e-commerce, led to a huge surge in demand.
As the name would suggest, the only ingredient in these products is cheese, which means the company is playing a key role in helping dairy farmers find a home for their milk – a product that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 situation. “We're doing everything we can to support farmers who send us milk. Turning milk away means those farmers lose revenue,” adds Scharfman. In Wisconsin and around the country, many farmers have been dumping milk as dairy prices have plummeted in the face of shrinking demand.
Because the company’s primary sales outlet is Amazon (they also sell via their site at justthecheese.com), they’ve also been working to handle a surge in orders from the e-commerce giant. “Amazon-wise, we had to run overtime for two weeks to keep up with the increased demand from COVID, states Scharfman. “People were worried about shortages, and getting shelf-stable cheese that tastes good was something a lot of people wanted.
“We originally launched our product on Amazon in 2018, (it became a Top 100 Amazon Grocery Product) so we had the benefit of being set up to handle the big spike in demand. We didn’t stock out, and we did not change our prices at all in the face of increased demand. Since we are a shelf-stable grocery item, we were considered essential, and allowed to ship to their (Amazon) warehouses.”
Internally, JTC has added even more sanitization procedures to an already rigorous hygiene strategy. The company is also encouraging office personnel to work from home, suspending on-site sales and not allowing visitors to their plant.
The later of those measures bars people from getting a closer look at the revamped school building the company has been using since 2003. Packaging and warehouse operations reside in the former gymnasium space, and Scharfman performs his duties in what used to be the principal’s office.
JTC has seen some of their demand taper off a bit as most of the country enters their third or fourth week of quarantine. However, the company now has another interesting operational dynamic to gear up for – their April 10 appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank. The team recorded the episode earlier this year, and regardless of the sharks’ decisions, the company is anticipating another surge in demand based on the exposure.
U.S. manufacturing continues to work through the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19. While some are making grand transitions to support medical device production, others are simply doing what they’ve always done. For Just The Cheese, that means preserving a way of life for 250+ small-town employees, ensuring the survival of a collection of vitally important dairy farmers, and providing those seeking a tasty treat with a little bit of comfort during trying times.
If you work for or know of a U.S. manufacturer, distributor or logistics provider combating the challenges of COVID-19, let us know by emailing Jeff Reinke at [email protected]