Clover sees big future in cheese

  • Clover Stornetta Farms President and CEO Marcus Benedetti on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

The owners at Clover Stornetta Farms think they know how a local dairy company can build a national brand: Turn Clo's North Coast milk into cheese.

The Bay Area's largest independent milk processor is staking its future on creating more dairy food products and placing them in new markets. The first effort is a new line of cheeses made solely with milk from Clover's member dairies, nearly all of them linked to the storied grasslands of Sonoma and Marin counties.

"My hope is that we will become as much a cheese company as we are a milk company," said President/CEO Marcus Benedetti, 37, whose grandfather founded the Petaluma-based Clover.

Benedetti's father, 64-year-old board chairman Dan Benedetti, fondly attributed such a grand goal to "the horizon of young people." Nonetheless, he suggested that Clover's new products are good enough to compete with cheese giant Kraft and even to take away some market share.

"We certainly need it and they can afford to lose it, the way I look at it," said Dan Benedetti.

The new products represent the most ambitious initiative of the company's third generation of leaders, which includes not only Marcus Benedetti but his sister Joanie Benedetti Claussen, the director of marketing, and cousin Mkulima "M" Britt, the chief financial officer.

Marcus Benedetti deadpanned that Clover "didn't bet the farm" on the success of the new cheeses. But he said the company must keep building revenues in order to remain healthy and family-owned.

"We have to grow," he said. "If you don't grow, you eventually slowly wither."

The company, whose billboards have made Clo the Cow Sonoma County's most-recognized business mascot, reported $135 million in sales last year. It has 223 workers and is known for local milk, a long-standing presence at county fairs and other events, and strong ties to independent supermarkets.

"They're the archetypal food manufacturer in Sonoma County," said Tom Scott, general manager of Cotati-based Oliver's Markets.

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