It’s quite apt to say that the Smith Dairy Products Company trucks in the “milk of human kindness.”
The Orville, Ohio-based business is ethically driven to produce the highest quality products while holding people in the highest regard, whether they be consumers, associates or business partners. “We believe in treating all people equally well by embracing values like honesty and loyalty,” says Brian DeFelice, Smith’s vice president of sales and marketing. “You should treat people the way you would want to be treated. That’s how we operate.”
These aren’t the perfunctory proclamations that make good copy on promotional literature. Rather, they’re what guide the company in all of its actions. As Smith Dairy points out, Christian principles form the foundation of its corporate mission. “We operate by Christ’s example,” remarks DeFelice.
In business terms that translates into providing consumers with products and services that meet or exceeds their expectations, while treating employees and business associates with love, dignity and respect, according to the company. Judging by Smith’s example, those guidelines not only make good ethical sense; they make good business sense. Smith Dairy Products took that approach right from its inception, and the company has endured for just two years shy of a century. “If you treat people right, they will take care of your business,” says DeFelice.
Today, the family owned business is one of the 100 largest dairies in the United States. The company distributes dairy products under three brand names – Smiths, Moovers, and Ruggles – in its home state of Ohio and the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan. In all, it services more than 3,500 customers including supermarkets, superstores, restaurants, schools, hospitals and any other outlet that buys and sells milk, ice cream and related products. “We are one of the few independent, family owned dairies in our competitive region, and we’re one of the largest and privately owned,” reveals DeFelice.
Milk-Stool Mission Concept
“Our company mission was founded on the symbol of a three-legged milk stool,” indicates DeFelice, about the company’s business concept. “The three legs stand for the three most important groups to us.”
One leg represents the customers that Smith Dairy strives to serve well with the highest quality products. The second leg stands for associates, or employees, which it seeks to satisfy with a rewarding work environment. The third leg represents the owners, who operate the company ethically and manage the operations profitably to keep the company healthy. The seat of the symbolic stool represents a strong base that holds everything together. As DeFelice points out, all elements essentially come down to the people. “Our philosophy is that if you don’t foster good relationships, there is no way you can have a thriving business,” he says.
In its effort to provide the highest quality products, Smith Dairy embraces innovation. For instance, it utilizes ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurization, a process that enables dairy products to maintain their quality for an extended time period. Further, the high-temperature sterilization procedure involves no chemicals and is accomplished without the use of additives, according to the company. “UHT can extend shelf life for milk from 60 to 90 days,” DeFelice points out.
Smith Dairy also applies the technique to its whipping cream, half & half, soft-serve ice cream mixes, and single-serve bottles to keep the products fresher longer. “In the 1990s, we were the first company in North America to come out with the first extended shelf life, plastic single-serve bottle,” says DeFelice. “That was a big innovation that led the industry.”
The company also uses Yellow Super Jugs, a protective packaging device that blocks out harmful light rays and locks in the vitamins and nutrients. “We were the first dairy in our region to come out with products in the light-blocking jugs,” reports DeFelice.
The company’s nutrient-retaining capabilities are pivotal as far as the message Smith Dairy tries to send to consumers. “The recent trend in milk production is that milk consumption has been flat, at best,” explains DeFelice. “Therefore, we need to convey the positive aspects of milk to the consumers, such as the fact that low-fat milk aids in weight reduction and that milk is the best natural source of calcium.”
Century of Service
Smith Dairy Products has been producing milk and cultured and ice products since 1909. The company was founded by the Schmid brothers in Orrville. Today, family member Steve Schmid is the president. The enterprise now includes three plants, two in Orrville and one in Richmond, Ind. The Orrville facilities include a 40,000-square-foot fluid milk and culture plant and a state-of-the-art, 45,000-square-foot ice cream plant. The Richmond facility is a 50,000-square-foot plant that produces extended shelf life milk.
The Smith brand product line includes milk (vitamin D milk, 2% reduced fat milk, 1% low-fat milk, fat-free skim milk, 1% low-fat chocolate milk), low-fat eggnog, ice cream, cottage cheese, and sour cream, as well as iced tea, juices, dips and punches. The Moovers product line includes single-serve and flavored milks packaged in ultra-violet resistant bottles that maintain product freshness longer.
But it’s the Ruggles line that really sets the mouth watering. Ice cream products include premium ice cream, seasonal and limited editions ice creams (including maple nut, peach, pumpkin, and peppermint stick), and Grandma Ruggles Premium Pie Flavors. The pie ice cream products include Blueberry Pie (vanilla ice cream with a blueberry swirl and pie crust pieces), chocolate truffle (chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chips, truffle pieces, and a chocolate swirl), Lemon Meringue Pie (vanilla ice cream with lemon swirl and pie crust pieces), Apple Pie (apple-flavored ice cream with chunks of apples and pie crust pieces), Peach Pie (peach-flavored ice cream with chunks of peaches and pie crust pieces), and Pumpkin Pie (pumpkin-flavored ice cream with pie crust pieces).
Other ice cream products include Caramel Cafe Latte (coffee ice cream with caramel swirl and chocolate caramel cups), Black Raspberry Chip (black raspberry-flavored ice cream with chocolate chunks) and Candy Cane (peppermint ice cream mixed with red peppermint candy).
The Ruggles line also offers Ruggles Retail Pack Novelties including Round Top Sundae Cones, Variety Pack Cones, Neapolitan Sandwiches, Vanilla Party Slices, Strawberry Eclair Crunch Bars, Orange PopUps, and Vanilla Mini-Sandwiches.
Additional Ruggles items include premium frozen yogurt,no-sugar-added ice cream, and sherbets. All products come in tamper-evident packaging with resealable lids that promote freezer freshness.
Premium is not only a key word in the products but in Smith Dairy’s overall approach. This comes at a cost, but the company is willing to pay the price. As it sows, so shall it reap.
“In the current business environment, price has become very important, especially with the insurgence of outlets like Wal-Mart,” says DeFelice. “That has significantly affected our marketing areas, as far as price reduction. In order to survive in a competitive market place, you have two choices: compete on price or compete with the best value, such as having the highest quality and service at a fair price.
Smith Dairy chose the latter path, to its own benefit. The company, which has experienced 3- to 5-percent annual growth in recent years, has differentiated itself by adhering to the highest product standards.
“We positioned ourselves as the best value in our marketplace,” says DeFelice. “If we were to compete solely on price, we’d probably lose the battle. So, we may not have the cheapest product, but we have the highest quality. We make sure that comes first, along with excellent service. As a result, we’re viewed as one of the best dairies in our region.”
The story of Smith Dairy is inspirational. Since its infancy, the company remained true to its own philosophy, always focusing on highest quality and service, even in a modern business era where diminishing quality is met with resignation and acceptance. Through the years, it never sold out. As a result, it has maintained its independence and integrity – in the process establishing itself a substantial niche in its market.