By Kerry McNally, WCCO-TV

ARDEN HILLS, Minn. (WCCO) — Land O’Lakes isn’t a publicly traded company, nor is it a privately held corporation. It’s a co-operative, established 90 years ago by some 300 Minnesota farmers who had come up with a new way to make butter.

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“They said we’ve got a great idea for a new product and it is butter made with sweet cream not sour cream, which was common in those days,” said Lydia Botham, director of public relations at Land O’ Lakes.

So how does a company that employs nearly 2,000 Minnesotans keep things fresh in today’s competitive marketplace?

WCCO was recently granted access to their offices and test kitchens and discovered that it’s an elaborate process to take a new product from concept to dairy case. We caught them as they were readying a new line of spreadable butters which include canola and olive oil.

“It’s just three ingredients — cream, salt and canola oil,” said Peggy Ellingson, vice president of butter and spreadables. “It spreads right from the refrigerator.”

Those three ingredients have to go through a complex series of consumer testing that can take well over a year. Consumers are brought in to do a series of blind taste tests. Once consumers and the research and development group sign off on a formula, it’s off to the test kitchen.

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“It’s really important that we use the same equipment consumers have in their kitchens and we know not all consumers have the same equipment,” said Botham. “The other thing we do in the test kitchens is to have multiple styles and types of equipment.”

The residential and commercial kitchens are where any new products are put through their paces. Baking, browning, simmering and searing. And the test kitchens won’t just try grandma’s way of doing things.

“Each recipe goes through eight or 10 different tests,” said Ellingson. “And over the course of the year, we do thousands and thousands of tests.”

Once the testing is complete, the product is sent to the packaging design team and, once again, they go with tradition over trends.

Since its humble beginnings in 1921, Land O’Lakes has grown to handle 12 billion pounds of milk per year in 50 states and over 50 countries.

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Canola and olive oil spreadable butters are in stores now and a third, much sweeter version is scheduled to be in dairy cases this spring.