Nuestro Queso is a young company, founded in July 2009. But it has quickly become a growing and award-winning Chicago-based enterprise that manufactures and markets a diverse line of fresh, premium Hispanic cheeses, creams, salsas and drinkable yogurts. Nuestro Queso works to ensure that its products arrive at Chicagoland independent grocers, major chain stores and distributors throughout the Midwest and East at the peak of freshness.
“The company started during the economic downturn and got off the ground through perseverance,” CEO Mark Braun says. “We’ve grown a strong brand with top-level quality, and we have strong direct store delivery (DSD) distribution in the Midwest and the East. Nuestro Queso for us is a concept that is all about freshness and taking a sense of ownership of everything we do.”
Building a Presence
Working off a vision to produce the best-quality and freshest Hispanic dairy products for Hispanic families, Nuestro Queso strives to exemplify what it means to be the Hispanic community’s choice for cheese, creams, salsas and yogurts. Nuestro Queso is committed to supporting the Hispanic community and aims to connect with Hispanic customers in innovative and meaningful ways by being a frequent presence in their community.
“First- and second-generation Hispanics were the first primary market for us, and we have always been involved in their community events,” Braun says. “We engage in a lot of grassroots outreach and anecdotal research to help us with understanding trends related to our target demographics.”
As the company has built a presence in the Hispanic community, it has also sought to branch out into other demographic areas. Its efforts in crossover marketing have included working on licensing agreements, such as an agreement with Azteca tortillas.
“We have worked on those kinds of programs to effectively reach the Anglo markets, piggybacking with other longstanding brands,” Braun says. “We’ve also secured co-packing and private-label business for a number of prominent brands.”
Doing Things Right
Although the commodity markets have led to higher prices for many of Nuestro Queso’s raw ingredients, the company is not turning to cheaper options. Braun says the company is committed to using only the finest ingredients to preserve the integrity of the brand.
“We back up what we produce by making investments at the retail level, and that has brought us expanded shelf space and the ability to expand product lines,” Braun says. “We are looking at additional new capabilities with packaging, continuing with products and packaging because it is an important part of building the brand. We differentiate ourselves through our assortment of products and by leveraging the manufacturing infrastructure we’ve built.”
In fact, the company has made a number of improvements to its factory in the past year. Nuestro Queso took down an old section of its factory and put up a new warehouse, new blending rooms and new employee areas. It has also undergone various audits (SQF, AIB) of its manufacturing operations to ensure optimal efficiency and food safety.
Braun feels the company is positioned to grow, which is why it has been making investments into sales and manufacturing. The company plans to continue to invest into all aspects of its operations, and it has a number of initiatives and capital investments planned for 2015.
“By investing in the business and expanding our sales efforts, we will be able to grow,” Braun says. “We’ve opened new distribution points with new distributors in the East, and that is all part of a long process of continued investment.”
The company has certainly earned its share of recognition. Its “Queso Fresco” was awarded the “Best in Class” medal for taste and quality at the 2013 United States Championship Cheese Contest, and its “Queso Oaxaca” won best in class at the American Cheese Society 2014.
Nuestro Queso understands that it takes time to build a reputation, so it will continue to focus on earning business and trust. It will take small steps to grow, showing customers how easy it is to do business with Nuestro Queso and showcasing its product quality to find new sources and channels for growth. It will also continue to exemplify what the Nuestro Queso name is all about.
“Our name is a centerpiece, and the culture within the company is centered around that,” Braun says. “Our initiatives are designed to be inclusive and that ‘our cheese’ energy is prevalent in the company.”