Blacksticks range

Source: Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses

The return of Blacksticks also marks the start of a major revamp of the brand

Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses’ bestselling brand Blacksticks Blue will return to the mults in February – three months after the business lost all its stock in a devastating fire at its warehouse.

The relaunch of Blacksticks, with a new packaging design that loses the ‘Blue’ signifier, also marks the start of a major revamp of the brand – with an emphasis on repositioning the blue cheese and a host of planned new products, all based on different usage occasions.

It marks a comeback for the Lancashire-based artisan producer, whose 60,000 sq ft warehouse and offices at Longridge near Preston were razed to the ground on 7 November.

The fire took a week to be fully extinguished and was described as “heart-wrenching” by Matthew Hall, fourth-generation owner at Butlers. The cheesemaker had lost “hundreds of tonnes” of cheese stock, in addition to all its packaging and even special products such as Christmas cheese hampers, he said – costing the business “millions”.

As a result, the cash drain as the business waited for an insurance payout was described as “hideous”, meaning Butlers, which has had “to start back from zero” had used its own funds to get back on track, Hall said. 

The cheesemaker had been gearing up for a busy festive period, but in the wake of the fire, was only able to make and sell its soft cheeses due to their shorter maturing timescale. They were cut and packed at its dairy, six miles away from the warehouse.

But following a rapid restructure, which included a temporary shift of cutting and packing back to its dairy facility, alongside the building of a temporary storage warehouse in a matter of weeks, Blacksticks will be back on supermarket shelves this month, Hall said.

“This side of Christmas the only thing we were able to do was soft cheese such as Kidderton Ash,” he added, while citing the need to continue production of cheeses – despite the devastation of the fire – due to the fact milk would continue to be supplied into the business on a daily basis from Butlers’ dairy farmers.

As production increases, Butlers is now eyeing a phased rollout of a slew of new Blacksticks products, ranging from dips, to an Everyday sliceable line and Melts, designed for burgers.

“What we’ve done is revisit Blacksticks so we can say it’s a cheese for every single usage – we want it to be accessible to more people more of the time,” Hall said.

The move was part of a bid to “demystify specialty cheese” which was “anchored in myth, mayhem and confusion”, particularly blue cheeses. This often made it “an impossible category for consumers to shop in” and perpetuated its use as merely a cheeseboard staple on special occasions such as Christmas.

The launches will be supported by a major marketing push later this year.

Read more: Shoppers cut back on cheeseboards in run-up to Christmas 2023