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Cracking the Case to a Stronger Wisconsin Cheese Industry

Wisconsin is known throughout the nation as the leader in cheese production with more than 2 billion pounds of cheese produced each year. Nancy and Peter Potter, a mother and son from Wisconsin, saw the state’s exploding cheese industry as a potential new business venture. The two felt that the market was missing a quality cracker to pair with Wisconsin’s finest cheeses. In response to this need, the family founded Madison-based Potter’s Crackers in 2006 to produce fresh, organic artisan crackers specifically designed to complement cheese.

After more than a decade of hard work to develop and expand Potter’s Crackers nationwide, Nancy was ready for a well-deserved retirement. She knew it was time to pass the torch to long-time employee, David Payne. David was a natural fit as he had started with the team in 2010 as a baker, and worked his way up to the general manager. In 2019, Payne and his business partner, Michael Tiede, bought the cracker manufacturing facility from the Potter family with an “all in” attitude.

Community First provided David and Michael with the $335,000 loan and line of credit needed to acquire Potter’s Crackers. WHEDA approved an accompanying loan guarantee to help the business transaction move forward. WHEDA loan guarantees reduce financial risk to lenders while also ensuring that qualified Wisconsin small businesses, such as Potter’s Crackers, have access to affordable capital. In the year that followed, Potter’s Crackers experienced tremendous success with a sales revenue increase of 18% and a team expansion from 13 to 23 employees.

WHEDA’s mission to stimulate the state’s economy and improve the quality of life for Wisconsin residents through offering unique lending tools was demonstrated through Potter’s Crackers. The cracker manufacturing company puts money back into the community by supporting local supply chains. The ingredients that go into Potter’s Crackers are sustainably sourced from Wisconsin farmers and producers. This local sourcing allows for fresh, natural, and high-quality crackers, as well as prosperity and resiliency for other small businesses throughout Wisconsin.

Currently, Potter’s Crackers are baked in a variety of forms including traditional artisan crackers, bread crisps, and oyster crackers. They offer many unique flavors such as caramelized onion, apple, cranberry hazelnut, rosemary thyme, and smoked applewood. Potter’s Crackers are mainly available in Wisconsin grocery stores and local shops/restaurants, but are also available in a few other states. The company partners with well-known producers such as Organic Valley and Sassy Cow Creamery.

Given expectations of continued growth, David and Michael hope to acquire a new, larger space with the goal to expand distribution networks and take the next step toward being a national brand. You can find many cheese pairings and recipes directly on Potter’s Crackers website, so next time you are grocery shopping, make sure to look for a box of Potter’s Crackers.

Photo credit to Levon Hipple, Potter's Crackers Photographer