Beloved Gibbston cheese company taps into tasty trend

An artisan cheese company has been taking advantage of a new trend to help its business grow - wedding cakes made entirely of cheese.

Gibbston Valley Cheese is owned by Bess Paul and her husband Kevin, and the pair are delighted by the popularity of the cakes.

"The original idea to create cheese-based wedding cakes came from a customer, who approached us to make one for her special day. We’re always thinking about quirky products that will help us to grow our offering and we were inspired by what we had seen online and overseas. Now we regularly create custom-made cakes for our clients, working with their caterers and florists to produce the final piece," says Bess.

After twenty years working as farmers in Otago, Bess and Kevin moved to Queenstown and bought Gibbston Valley Cheese in 2007. The company sells handmade cow, goat and sheep’s cheese into local delicatessens, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and more. The couple also serve and sell their products through their own café, partnering with a neighbouring winery and a brewery based in Invercargill.

"Thanks to the Queenstown tourism boom, our business has gone from strength-to-strength year-on-year. We work hard to supply our customers with unique products and experiences, and the wedding cakes are a perfect example of this. All the dishes on offer at our café are also cheese-based, and we offer wine and beer pairings," adds Bess.

As well as diversifying their product offering, the pair have been working with Business Mentors New Zealand to ensure their success. They started working with Brian Weaver in 2014, after Bess read about the service in the media. She and Kevin were looking for help with brand strengthening and awareness. Having held the position of Marketing Director for McDonald’s, Brian was the perfect fit.

"Although our company was growing and doing well, we knew it was important to stay proactive. Our industry is competitive, and we needed help to strengthen our brand. Brian had an impressive background and was really able to open our eyes to what’s possible, encouraging us to embrace new opportunities that come our way - such as the cakes. A mentor helps you to sound out any ideas you have. They listen, talk and give useful suggestions. It’s just like confiding in a good friend," says Bess.

Brian's background in consumer marketing includes working with multi-nationals such as Nestle, Wella and Johnson & Johnson. In 1995, he was appointed a Director of International Marketing for McDonald’s in Chicago, before moving to Hong Kong as the food giant's Marketing Director in 1998. In 2000, he moved back to New Zealand and ran his own marketing consultancy for six years, as well as volunteering for Business Mentors New Zealand.

Brian says, "Bess and Kevin's passion for their business was obvious from the start. They had lots of ideas that I was able to help them narrow down and prioritise. Together we focused on tidying up the brand’s look and feel, focusing on consistency."

After the help they received from Brian, the couple sought out a second mentor to help them with additional premise and succession planning. They started meeting with Robin Martin earlier this year.

"We had such a great experience with Brian that we decided to seek our further help from Business Mentors New Zealand - this time to help us pull together a succession plan. The beauty of the service is that there are so many different mentors, with different backgrounds, available to help you with every type of business challenge. I'm already incredibly excited about Robin’s fresh approach to planning," concludes Bess.

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