Milking the Market: Glass Bottles, Fresh Milk
As the dairy industry is changing across the nation, some producers are finding market opportunity by taking production back in time. With consumers demanding locally grown food, producers such as the Hildebrand’s of Junction City are finding a a potential market in bringing back glass-bottled milk not seen for decades. Alan and Dave Hildebrand, brother and owners of their fourth generation dairy farm, are expanding to meet this growing demand for farm-fresh dairy products.
“We are limited as to how far we can physically expand, given our location near Junction City and Milford Lake,” Alan Hildebrand says. “We had been looking into bottling for quite some time and had a feasibility study done. The results showed positive feedback, that there is enough of a market to ensure profit and we decided to go for it.”
For years the Hildebrand Dairy, with 150 purebred Holstein cows, has sold its milk to various processors throughout the mid-west. However, self-processing and distributing will offer the dairy marketing freedom never experienced.
“As producers we have always been price takers, now that we have the opportunity we would like to be the price makers,” Alan Hildebrand says. “We have more of a say in our costs and returns, allowing us to be successful and competitive.”
According to National Agricultural Statistics Services, Dairy is the sixth largest agricultural business in Kansas, generating roughly $252.4 million a year. The Kansas Department of Agriculture expects industry growth to continue. While farm numbers are predicted to decrease from the 409 now licensed, farm size (cow numbers and milk production) will increase. Along with the number of large dairy farms, a growing number of smaller milk producers, such as Hildebrand’s, are looking for ways to maximize their returns.
“By selling our products right off the farm and directly to grocery stores the middleman is cut and it gives us more control over the business,” Alan Hildebrand says. “By being more self-reliant we eliminate some of the outside factors that can influence production yet still make a good product.”
The Hildebrand glass-bottle may contain a nostalgic sentiment, but it is what is inside that really counts. “We’ll produce a high quality product and consumers will see the value in our milk,” Alan Hildebrand says. “Our milk will be in the grocery store between 24 and 48 hours after processing. The glass bottles will not distort the pure flavor of the milk and the taste is remarkable. Because of the freshness, milk will also be capable of longer storage and the bottles can be recycled. While consumers will have to pay more for glass-bottled, locally produced milk, they will because they know exactly what they are getting.”
While construction on the new processing facilities is still underway, Hildebrand’s plan to start processing, bottling and distributing their milk in mid to late June. “Hildebrand milk will be available in most grocery stores within a 50 mile radius of the dairy,” Alan Hildebrand says. “Products will include whole, 1 percent, 2 percent and skim milk. Flavored milk, butter and ice cream are likely to be added later on.”
Products will also be offered at the newly constructed store located on the dairy, where in addition to milk, customers can also purchase cuts of corn-fed beef also raised on the farm.
Quality is a highly regarded trait at the Hildebrand dairy. As with any dairy Hildebrand’s must meet standard inspections, maintain the required permits and licenses and are subject to various product tests. However, quality goes beyond enforced regulations. “The fact that everything our cows eat is raised right here is somewhat of a special characteristic of our dairy,” says Alan Hildebrand. “Not only does it give us a production advantage, but it also ensures the quality we want.”
Healthy, happy and comfortable animals are the key for any dairy, the more comfortable the cow the more milk produced. It starts with excellent livestock and at Hildebrand’s their low somatic cell count cows are given careful treatment. “We do what we can to keep all of our facilities clean and safe,” Alan Hildebrand says. “We accommodate the livestock with good ventilation, temperate control systems, sanitary pens and general cleanliness. Our cows also spend time outside in the pasture everyday. That is something we feel is beneficial to their overall well being,” he adds. “Everything done at our dairy helps us to create a wholesome product, something consumers can appreciate.”
Alan Hildebrand credits the success of the dairy to a group of hardworking people. “The entire family pitches in a lot with every aspect of operation. We also have a fulltime herdsman and several other employees in addition to family members. Everyone does their part to make sure things go smoothly.”
Alan and Dave Hildebrand agree that their dairy and the progress it has made is something of great pride to themselves and their family. “After all, at the end of the day, it’s our name attached to the product, we want it to be the best it can possibly be.”