The mission at Foster Farms Dairy is to keep smiles on the faces of its cows. It is a calling that is the focus of TV commercials sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board, which claims that the best dairy products come from “happy cows” in California. More than 5,000 of these cheerful heifers live at Foster Farms Dairy, which operates farms throughout central California, with processing in Fresno and Modesto.
What makes a happy cow? Plenty of good food for one thing. Foster Farms Dairy prides itself on creating the best feeds and making sure the cows get a nourishing diet from crops produced on its own fields and ranches including more than 3,000 acres of alfalfa, corn, oats and wheat. Foster Farms nurtures cows with quality time to graze in open pasture for naturally stronger immune systems that consistently produce higher quality milk without growth hormones. The quality of the cows’ lives can only improve the quality of milk and other dairy products.
“We produce butter and powder, fluid milk, drinks, ice cream mixes, cottage cheese, sour cream, and hard ice cream,” says Larry Diggory, operations manager at the Modesto processing complex, which includes four facilities. Two are processing plants; the other two are devoted to filling and packing. The Fresno facility also produces fluid milk, along with soft-serve ice cream mix. Pasteurizing is done in both locations, and both have dedicated juice lines including lemonade, apple, grape and orange juices.
Modern dairy farming requires the latest equipment including high-temperature pasteurizers; gallon, half-gallon and quart bag fillers; weight-mix and augers for ice cream ingredients, and load cell tanks. Nineteen high-speed fill lines ensure that fresh milk and juice are packaged daily. Plastic bottle packaging is created “just in time” to ensure optimum purity.
The plants are about a dozen years old, and to meet growing demands of its markets, Foster Farms has made significant capital investments recently. The company added new ice cream freezers and warehousing in 2001, a new orange juice storage facility in 2002, and a plant for ice cream, sour cream and cottage cheese in 2003.
The dairies process 2.5 million gallons of milk weekly in seven-day, round-the-clock operations, which also incorporate selected independently owned dairies and distribution operations from nine branch locations. The strict regulation of farm production in California guides plant practices for the dairy. “Not only do we test it fresh, but we stress the products at higher temperatures to make sure they last past the end of code,” Diggory says.
Foster Farms’ 750 dairy employees, including farming, processing and fleet, carry on the legacy of Max and Vera Foster who borrowed $1,000 on their life insurance policy — a fortune back in 1939. The couple put the money down on an 80-acre farm in the San Joaquin Valley. The business started with a few chickens and quickly expanded. In 1941, the Fosters added an all-Jersey cow dairy operation that distributed fresh milk in chilled glass bottles to Modesto residents.
Business boomed and in 1954, a state-of-the-art creamery was built. Cultured products, such as ice cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, and butter were added in the 1960s. Today, Foster Farms Dairy is the largest privately owned dairy in California with annual sales of around $300 million. Foster Farms remains a family-owned business, and is also the largest poultry producer in the Western United States, delivering 1.3 billion pounds of fresh chicken and turkey each year to retailers, warehouse clubs and foodservice customers.
Keepers of nostalgia
Modesto California is a state of mind and famous for being the location of the iconic film “American Graffiti.” Foster Farms Dairy contributes to the legend with memories of its 1950s drive-through dairy where you could get an ice cream cone delivered right to your back seat. Home delivery became the primary method of milk distribution as the towns and suburbs of the central valley grew. Several mornings each week, farm fresh milk and other dairy products were left on the doorsteps of homes just in time for breakfast. The tradition lives on, with this service still offered in selected areas. The original fleet has been supplanted with today’s refrigerated trailers, tractors and bobtails, which deliver to local stores and branches. Long-haul truckers extend the service area for commercial ingredients and mixes.
Embodying the spirit of American Graffiti, Foster Farms Dairy today produces its Cruiser brand of flavored milk including chocolate, strawberry, and mocha. In keeping with the more modern tastes of Californians are Foster Farms popular non-fat yogurt “sMOOthies” – a West Coast twist on a dairy product as old as ancient Greece.
Western shoppers in California and parts of Nevada enjoy Foster Farms Dairy products right from supermarket shelves, but the rest of us might savor dishes from restaurants and products from food manufacturers that use Foster Farms mixes.
“Milk powder and butter ship worldwide mostly as commercial ingredients,” Diggory says. “You might not know you are eating our products.”
Food service products for the commercial trade include a vast array of just-in-time fresh dairy ingredients for restaurants, caterers and the hospitality industry. Foster Farms freshness reduces storage requirements for continental butter pats, half-&-half creamers, non-dairy creamers, block cheeses, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and milk products.
Custom butter fat powders are in constant demand by food manufacturers, bakers and confectioners. Foster Farms Dairy meets the need with powdered whole milk, non-fat milk and buttermilk; bulk butter and specialties; and bulk cream, half & half, and manufacturing cream in totes or by the tanker load. Foster Farms uses a high-heat process to formulate the protein in its powders, creating some of the finest products available for baking mixes used in pancakes, doughnuts and other goods.
Of course, Californians also place a priority on environmental protection. For over 60 years, Foster Farms Dairy and the Foster Family have been dedicated to preserving the fertile native farmland of the San Joaquin Valley. Sustainable agriculture practices maintain and foster soil fertility, clean water, high air quality and the protection of agricultural zoning in areas where urban development threatens limited farmland. Today’s farming technologies and practices result in higher yield per acre than in the American Graffiti days due to recycling of natural, nutrient-rich by products, which reduces waste water impact. As a result, Foster Farms dairy in Denair, Calif. has become one of the first environmentally certified dairies of the California Quality Assurance Program.
This is just one more reason that the cows are smiling.