Petra Kassun-Mutch, a dynamic force in Ontario artisan cheese, is stepping down today as president of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, the award-winning company she founded seven years ago. She remains a 50% shareholder of the Prince Edward County-based business.
Two years ago, in an editorial feature in Best Health, a Reader Digest online magazine, Kassun-Mutch was quoted as saying about Shawn Cooper, her husband at the time and owner of the other 50% stake in the business, “I bounce ideas off him, but he doesn’t play an operational role. We’d kill each other if he did.”
Last Friday, in a statement to friends of Fifth Town, Kassun-Mutch wrote, “As many of you know, my husband and I separated over 20 months ago. And sadly our personal lives and dynamic were beginning to affect Fifth Town in a negative way. We are both directors and shareholders. Equal decision makers. And as a consequence of irreconcilable differences resulting in a deadlock regarding the best way to move forward with Fifth Town, I have decided that Fifth Town will be best served by transitioning the company into new hands entirely.”
Cooper remains the sole director of Fifth Town. Christine Legein has been hired as interim president, effective today.
Legein was vice-president of CCC Investment Banking, a mid-market Canadian investment bank with a specialization in the food processing industry. Legein has almost 30 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. Prior to her career in financial advisory and investment banking, Christine served in different executive roles in corporate development and operations at such market leaders as Ault Foods and John Labatt.
Cooper has retained CCC Investment Banking to evaluate the company’s strategic options to leverage Fifth Town’s cheesemaking expertise and brand in order to drive the next phase of its growth.
In her statement, Kassun-Mutch said, “As you can imagine, the idea of moving (Fifth Town) into new hands is very difficult for me as this company is my life’s best professional work thus far. While I realize that new ownership and investment will be good for FT, our staff and farmers in the long run, I am too close and to vested in its original vision and the direction I had set for this enterprise to continue on as the president during this review and change process.”
But Kassun-Mutch, 49, has no plans to slow down:
“Fifth Town, for me, was not just about cheese. It was also a wonderful opportunity to apply what I had learned so far in life and business to the design and launch of a brand new, forward looking, social purpose enterprise with an emphasis on sustainability. So, while Fifth Town has been the centre of my professional life over the past seven years, I plan to continue to develop my strong interest in social purpose enterprise design and management because I believe that achieving social goals while generating a reasonable return for investors are entirely possible—and perhaps even necessary.”
Kassun-Mutch was a key player in the founding of the Ontario Cheese Society and currently serves as interim chair of the recently formed Canadian Cheese Society. She told the society’s board that she now plans to be fully involved in its development as a voice for cheesemakers coast to coast.
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese describes itself as an environmentally and socially responsible enterprise positioned as a niche producer of fine handmade cheeses using fresh, locally produced goat and sheep milk. The product development processes reflect the spirit of the Fifth Town brand which aims to integrate traditional methods and craftsmanship ethics with local terroir. Situated on 20 acres of agricultural land on the eastern ridge of Prince Edward County, the 4,200-square-foot Fifth Town dairy processing, retail and educational facility enhances the practice of artisan cheese making with advanced sustainable design. The project aims to be Platinum accredited under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
Fifth Town was founded by Petra Kassun-Mutch in 2004. After several years in design and development, construction began 2007 and the dairy opened June 2008 with then only five employees and three farms as suppliers. Since then, Fifth Town has grown to more than 16 employees with seven farm suppliers, and generates $1.5M in revenues annually.
The company was designed by Kassun-Mutch from the outset as a social purpose enterprise with governing values focused on leadership in sustainable enterprise management, local community contributions, and the triple bottom line. About 93% of the money spent to make, market and distribute its products stayed in the community.
Fifth Town has won more than 35 prestigious national and international awards including Grand Champion on several occasions for its unique cave-aged goat, sheep and cow milk cheeses. It took five of the 21 awards given to Ontario dairies at the recent American Cheese Society competition in Montreal.
In 2009, Fifth Town received the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation. It is Canada’s only Platinum LEED manufacturing facility and the only Platinum LEED dairy in the world. It has also received many awards for a variety of other initiatives including sustainable enterprise management, marketing, innovation, and architecture.
Fifth Town is Canada’s 8th B Corporation and achieved highest score at time of certification.
Here’s the link to How Cheese Saved My Life, the fascinating feature on Kassun-Mutch in Best Health quoted above. See also: