With an unwavering devotion to delivering its customers naturally produced, healthy dairy products, Sunshine Dairy Foods’ business strategy of selling rBST-free milk has made it a survivor in a dairy game that has seen more than one competitor dry up. Pat Whiteman has the details.
In 1936, when Greek entrepreneur John Karamanos began dairy delivery service to his friends in Portland’s food industry, there were more than 75 independent dairy processors in the area. Now, the company John set out to create, Sunshine Dairy Foods, is one of only two remaining. How did it manage to survive? Surprisingly, by selling more expensive milk.
You see, Sunshine has always had a rapport with its customers. So in the 1960s when it sold its house routes, it continued to service chefs, food service, hospitals, large campuses, health care and the coffee trade. Sunshine Dairy also went into the natural stores. “They were blown away with our service,” says Doug Warrick, one of nine managing partner/owners at Sunshine Dairy Foods. “The big dairies only wanted to draw big palates of 2% gallons and didn’t have the service that the natural stores wanted. No dairy would service them because they weren’t ‘big.’” Warrick remembers the natural stores also made it clear they didn’t want milk where someone had been tinkering with the cow. “That seemed logical to us, so we listened to their thoughts. Plus we figured our consumers would care about that down the road,” says Warrick.
A lot of service and a little bit of listening went a long way and Sunshine Dairy Foods found its niche. Now, some 23 years after it started servicing the natural stores, Sunshine Dairy Foods is known for its commitment to providing the highest quality naturally produced dairy products. Sunshine farmers have agreed and even pledged not to inject their cows with rBST (recombinant Bovine Somatotropin) also known as rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) and they have no cloned cows for milk production. Signed affidavits from each farmer actually certify that they abstain from using rBST and follow humane animal treatment and environmental improvement. In addition, each load of milk is screened for antibiotics. “We just believe that natural is better and our farmers agree,” says Warrick. “Our fluid milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, egg nog, yogurt, soft serve mix and all natural chocolate milk are all produced using milk from dairy cows never treated with rBST. We also offer many related products from local and sustainable resources.”
COW POWER & SUSTAINABILITY
A Quality Chekd Dairy since 1981, Sunshine Dairy Foods operates two production facilities in Portland and a distribution center in east Multnomah County. Its fluid milk plant packs sour cream and ice cream for the food service industry. Another location handles all of its cultured products such as yogurt and drinkable yogurts.
Sunshine Dairy Foods also continually explores new ways to lessen its impact on the environment. Clean wind power and “cow power” converted from methane gas run its facilities. Its best award–winning water conservation plan helps the company save 9.2 million gallons of water each year in its production and cleaning practices. It also recycles cardboard and plastic and facilitates household battery recycling for its employees. In 2007 it began fueling its Portland delivery trucks with B5 biodiesel.
ACTIVE CULTURES. ACTIVE MINDS.
Sunshine Dairy is excited about its new, recently launched line of yogurt and sour cream. Its yogurt is made with fresh, rBST-free milk and probiotic cultures blended with fruit. “There is no artificial flavor or color in our yogurt and no high fructose corn syrup. We like to call it suitably sweet. Anyone who has sampled it is ordering so we take that as a good sign,” says Warrick. Also, for the past five years Sunshine Dairy has won Quality Chekd’s award for best sour cream in the United States and now the award-winning sour cream has added probiotic cultures.
To promote the products, Sunshine Dairy launched a plucky public relations campaign around its cultured products aimed at supporting Portland’s local arts community. The “Active Cultures, Active Minds” campaign supports the local cultural community through sales of Sunshine Dairy yogurt and sour cream. “We’ve teamed up as a cultural partner with the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s Work for Art Program in Oregon and Seattle’s 4 Culture to pass our contributions on to local arts organizations,” says Warrick. “The arts play a significant role in the economic vitality of our area and we’re excited about this campaign and our region’s future.”
Sunshine Dairy will also participate in an employee giving campaign through Work for Art in which Sunshine will offer to match its employee’s gifts.
In recent years, Sunshine Dairy has also seen huge growth in the coffee world and received rave reviews from the industries top coffee baristas. “Our milk is sweet with no off flavors. It doesn’t compete with the coffee,” says Warrick. “Our coffee roasters love how it works with their coffee. It is the perfect medium for the coffee artists to practice their craft. The sweetness in the lactose is just right.” The milk produces velvety foam and pours beautifully for precise latte art. Perhaps that is why Sunshine Dairy milk is preferred by the Northwest Regional Barista Champions.
QUALITY SHINES THROUGH
Continually evolving, Sunshine is always honing its skills to increase its commitment to food service operations and meet the needs of its customer base. “We are committed to providing the freshest and best tasting milk. We are proud to be the first dairy in the Northwest to lead the way with rBST-free fluid milk products and are glad to see that consumers in increasing numbers are seeking naturally produced food products,” says Warrick.
Sunshine Dairy Foods is currently looking to increase its customer base by entertaining co-packing partnerships. “We extend our quality commitment and superior service to co-packing partners. We encourage them to bring their ideas and recipes to the experts in our research and development department and to our production team to create custom dairy products and start building that co-packing relationship with us,” says Warrick. “We certainly have the capabilities in that area and a lot of companies have expressed interest in the bottling equipment we have. We’d really like to grow in this area and we have the boxers and casers and the ability to pump volume and time to get it done. Warrick said Sunshine Dairy is capable of producing cultured dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, yogurt drinks fluid dairy, soy and organic products.
A proud member of the natural foods industry, Sunshine Dairy Foods is excited to be part of a growing community of chefs, farmers and consumers. “We have long supported food entrepreneurs and consumers who value naturally produced foods and we support community activities, and organizations that support similar goals for sustainability and healthy food choices,” says Warrick. “We listen to our customers and always try to add value and high service and that seems to keep our phone ringing. We continue to strive to raise the bar on quality and our hope is that we will continue to be here to offer the kind of products that people ask for.”