WHERE THE CHEESE COMES FROM

Inc. (USA) - - MONEY -

FireFly Farms Cream­ery & Mar­ket in Ac­ci­dent, Mary­land

THE VOL­UME About 2,100 pounds of goat cheese per week is shipped to restau­rants in D.C., Mary­land, and Vir­ginia.

THE CHAL­LENGE Sweet­green’s founders came across FireFly in 2007 at Wash­ing­ton’s Dupont Cir­cle Farm­ers Mar­ket, which is out­side their sec­ond restau­rant. FireFly buys its goat milk from seven fam­ily farms near the cream­ery, still makes its cheeses by hand, and has made a firm com­mit­ment to pay­ing its work­ers a liv­ing wage. But the ini­tial re­la­tion­ship was rocky: Sweet­green didn’t al­ways get its fore­casts right, so un­ex­pect­edly large or­ders some­times left FireFly scram­bling.

THE SO­LU­TION It took about three years for Sweet­green to fine-tune its fore­casts—which FireFly waited out, oc­ca­sion­ally run­ning out of milk for other cheeses. “I didn’t like that, but we did what we needed to do,” says co-founder Mike Koch. Even now, FireFly can’t pro­vide enough vol­ume at times, send­ing Sweet­green to a tem­po­rary sup­plier. Keany picks up or­ders di­rectly at the cream­ery, sav­ing the cheese­maker on trans­porta­tion costs.

THE PAY­OFF Koch says Sweet­green has been a sig­nif­i­cant driver of rev­enue growth for FireFly since 2010 and, as of June, ac­counted for 34 per­cent of FireFly’s rev­enue in the pre­vi­ous year. “My mar­gin with Sweet­green is as thin as I can let it be, but the trade­off there is vol­ume and ef­fi­ciency,” Koch says. Plus, “our abil­ity to ser­vice a cus­tomer like Sweet­green is like a ré­sumé gold star when we go to other large buyers.”

HAND CHURNED

Em­ploy­ees at FireFly Farms Cream­ery & Mar­ket mak­ing goat-milk cheese.

Dan Porter (bot­tom photo, left) over­sees FireFly’s team of ar­ti­sanal cheese­mak­ers.

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