Man. cheese fans can fly international, buy local

Setting up its first store beyond its southeastern Manitoba factory, Bothwell Cheese has opted to cater to a significant chunk of its factory store’s clientele.

The company, which makes cheese at New Bothwell, Man., about 20 km northwest of Steinbach, held a media event June 10 for its new store in Winnipeg’s James A. Richardson International Airport, not far from the second-floor security checkpoint.

According to CEO Ivan Balenovic, the artisanal cheesemaker had found many of the visitors to its factory’s on-site store over the years have been travellers, buying different types of Bothwell Cheese to take to friends and family out-of-province, or snowbirds stocking up before flying south for the winter.

Thus the new store gives both Winnipeggers and out-of-towners a “comprehensive Bothwell Cheese shop,” he said, offering small snack packs of 10 different types of cheese to take on the plane, as well as full packages of the company’s 30-odd varieties of cheese, Bothwell-branded merchandise such as ball caps, mugs, shirts and bags, cheese-related books and magazines, and accessories such as cheese boards and fondue pots.

The store also offers a computer terminal linked to the company’s website, allowing customers to order and ship Bothwell product anywhere in Canada, marketing director Jason Wortzman noted.

“Certainly for us it’s a unique opportunity,” Winnipeg Airports Authority CEO Barry Rempel said after a “cheese-cutting” ceremony. “This is the first time we’ve taken a product so uniquely Manitoban and offered it to the public in this way.”

While it’s new at this airport, the concept of putting well-known local food on the market at major airports is not uncommon, Balenovic and Rempel both noted, citing B.C. salmon on sale at Vancouver and steaks for sale at Omaha.

When looking for new members to join the airport’s “retail family,” Rempel added, it’s looking for retailers that share its values. In his case, he confessed to a “moment of reflection” on entering the store, thinking of weekend afternoons at his grandparents’ home, dining on fresh-baked buns with Bothwell cheese.

The airport terminal’s relocation to a new building in 2010 also gives Bothwell’s concept a chance for a shorter-term test flight, they noted. The company hasn’t yet leased space at the new terminal building, Balenovic said.

But as the new terminal progresses toward its opening next year, Rempel said, it’s always possible that retail tenants who have already leased space there may reconsider their business models in that time.

As another selling point for travellers, Wortzman reminded the audience that there are “absolutely no restrictions on taking cheese on a plane,” as long as it’s for your own personal use and not for resale.

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