The Yellow Pages
by James Dudlicek
Scrupulous testing and distinctive processing at Mayfield’s
hometown plant contribute to the brand’s success.
“Food safety begins on the farm,” says Barry
Derrick, quality assurance manager at Mayfield Dairy Farms’
processing facility in Athens, Tenn.
Thus begins the story of how Mayfield manages to produce the
purest, freshest-tasting product possible, time after time, batch after batch.
To be sure, no milk even gets past the front gate unless it passes rigorous
“Only milk from Grade A farms is
acceptable,” Derrick says. “These farms are regularly inspected
by the Department of Agriculture and our own field personnel.”
Raw milk is procured for Mayfield and other Dean
Foods divisions in the Southeast by Dairy Marketing Services (DMS). The
milk comes from about 150 independent producers, primarily from within
Tennessee, according to Jack Grubb, DMS field representative and a 56-year
Mayfield veteran. But if production demands require it, milk can be brought
in from as far away as Wisconsin and Texas, Grubb says.
The plant receives about 25 tankers of raw milk
per day, each carrying about 55,000 pounds of milk. They arrive at the
scale house where they’re weighed and samples are taken for testing.
“Milk from several farms may be commingled on one tanker,”
Derrick says. “For security reasons, all ports on the tankers must be
sealed and seal numbers must be documented. When a tanker arrives,
the top seal is broken, the temperature of the milk is taken and a sample
Testing for antibiotics and bacteria, among other
things, takes about 10 minutes. If the load tests clean, the truck proceeds
to the plant for offloading. If it fails, the load is turned away. Data is
kept on each batch of milk from each farm contributing to the total load,
so Mayfield can “weed out which producer is the culprit” in the
event of a bad batch, Grubb explains. Each batch is weighed at the farm,
and the total weight upon arrival at the plant must match the batch total.
“Every load of milk gets this same treatment,” Grubb
says, explaining that DMS works closely with producers to rectify problems.
“The farmer works for us, so we work together to solve problems. That
gives us top-quality raw milk.”
All testing data is logged by the plant and kept on file in case of future problems
or inquiries by regulatory authorities.
Fillin’ Yellow Jugs
Once milk is deemed fit for Mayfield’s use, the journey
to the consumer begins.
Mayfield’s trademark yellow milk jugs are
manufactured on site by the dairy’s own blow-molding operation. The
plant can turn out 7,800 gallon jugs and 6,400 half-gallon jugs every hour
on six machines, four for gallons and two for half gallons.
The light-blocking containers are made from a
combination of new plastic, yellow color pellets and regrind, or scrap from
the molding process. Finished jugs are sent by overhead conveyor to the
While the distinctive yellow jugs are made at the
plant, all other milk containers — including the famous Chug that
Mayfield launched for Dean — are brought in from off site. But the
Athens plant is responsible for applying the shrink-sleeve labels to the
plastic milk bottles, not only for Mayfield-branded products but for
Barber’s and Dean branded milks as well.
A descrambling machine uprights and sorts bottles
loaded into the shrink-sleeving machine. Bottles traveling to the two
shrink-sleeving lines receive labels dropped from above at a rate of 350
bottles a minute, then head through the shrink tunnel to finish the label
Labeled bottles join their yellow cousins on a
conveyor journey across a bridge over a street bisecting the plant on their
way to the filling area. The entire plant used to be across the street; the
blow-molding operation is housed in a former textile mill that was added to
the Mayfield plant complex, according to Chad McKeehan, assistant manager
of the visitor center at the Athens plant.
Bottles are fed into their appropriate lines: two
gallon fillers, one half-gallon filler, a quart filler, a pint filler and
three half-pint fillers. All are rotary fillers except for the half-pint
gabletop carton line.
Yellow jugs descend from the bridge and receive inkjet
code dating and a paper label before being filled. The bottles are filled,
spun around for application of a one-piece tamper-evident cap and sent
onward down the line for crating.
Fillers do their jobs at a rate of 100 gallons per
minute, McKeehan says. The plant processes and bottles about 180,000
gallons per day on all its fluid lines, based on annual averages, he says.
Quality-control staffers take samples of product
off each line every 30 minutes for testing and to store for research
purposes, Derrick says. One sample of each run is stored in a heat-shock
cooler, where they’re held at 45 degrees F and tested again after
seven days, to cover most expected home and retail refrigeration scenarios,
he explains. Samples are actually pulled for testing at each stage of
production, from pasteurized tanks, holding tanks and fillers, according to
production supervisor Alan Hennessee.
Before filling, of course, Mayfield-branded milk
undergoes the company’s unique vacreating treatment to remove off
flavors and odors. The plant’s HTST pasteurizers are equipped with an
upstream vacuum chamber that injects dry steam into the milk, raising its
temperature from 160 to 175 degrees F. The milk next enters a flashing
chamber to reduce the temperature back to 160 and remove moisture
equivalent to the steam condensate added upstream. Conventional
pasteurization is then resumed on the vacuum-treated raw milk.
Mayfield’s ice cream operation gets its milk
and cream directly from the adjacent milk processing plant, ensuring the
freshest ingredients for the company’s popular frozen offerings. Ice
cream products made here include Mayfield Classics square and Select
scround half-gallons, quart sherbet, pint ice cream, sundae cones,
sandwiches, stick novelties and bulk products. The plant’s output
includes frozen items made under other Dean brand names as well.
All ice cream products start in the
computer-controlled mix room. Milk transferred from the adjacent milk plant
is blended with sugar and flavorings, pasteurized and held for 24 hours
before being made into finished product.
Stick novelties come off three lines — one
12 wide for ice pops, another for bars and a 24-bar line for bullet bars.
For Mayfield Cream Bars, a novelty made of vanilla
ice cream and orange sherbet, half-frozen ice cream is filled into the
–40 degree F slots of the bar former. Sticks are inserted, and the
bars are frozen hard by the time they get to the wrapping stage. Frozen
bars are picked up by their sticks in groups of eight and dropped
into long continuous sheets of wrapper material. The wrapping is cut apart
into individually sealed bars, flipped over and hand sorted into boxes for
store sales or bulk boxes for individual sales in convenience stores
Water ice bars are created in a similar fashion. A
three-section flavor vat holds cherry, grape and orange mix that’s
fed through overhead hoses to the 12-across molds to make boxes full of the
pops in assorted flavors.
On the cone line, sleeved cones are fed manually
from above into the filler. Cones advance three at a time to be filled with
ice cream and lidded, then packed in boxes that are machine formed at the
end of the line.
Meanwhile on the packaged lines, flats for square
cartons are mechanically opened to receive ice cream fed to the line
through overhead pipes. Cartons are filled from the end, sealed, weighed
and metal-detected before advancing to the hardener. Scrounds for the
Select line follow similar steps; a clear film is applied before the tubs
are lidded and sent on for hardening.
During peak season, the plant produces about
42,000 square half-gallons per day and about 50,000 scrounds daily, along
with 60,000 dozen frozen novelties. The facility also produces 3-gallon
bulk tubs for ice cream sold in the plant’s visitor center.
Packaged ice cream spends about 90 minutes in the
hardener at –35 degrees F. The hardener contains 16 plates that each
can hold 320 half-gallon cartons. When the hardening process is complete,
cartons drop from the hardener onto a conveyor, which whisks them off for
bundling, storage and shipment.
Cartons pass through a metal detector before they’re bundled
in clear film, five squares per bundle of Classics and four scrounds on a cardboard
flat per bundle of Select flavors. Pints are likewise film-wrapped, eight pints
Bundles of packaged ice cream are stacked on pallets at 0 degrees F, then sent
to storage at –20 degrees F.
The original facility in Athens was built around
1950 and has been being added onto in some fashion ever since. In
fact, the company reports that most employees that have been with Mayfield
for the past 40 years will tell you they can’t remember a time there
wasn’t a project being planned or implemented to expand some area of
“We’ve been in a state of growth for
years,” says plant manager Scott Watson. “We’ve done
projects recently to upgrade new valve clusters and new tanks. We continue
to grow and add new technology. Between Athens and Birmingham, we’ve
moved volume around. We’ve incorporated the Birmingham facility into
the ice cream operation and made decisions on where volume needed to be
run. We’re in a constant state of change.”
New equipment includes a three-level,
state-of-the-art engine room with automated controls, upgraded cooler and
case dock with new above-ground drives, upgrading of the automated storage
and retrieval system, a new cone machine and recycling equipment. In the
realm of packaging, Mayfield changed its frozen novelty packaging to a
thicker board to better protect and insulate product as its shipped to
“As in any growing business, we re-invest in
our plants constantly,” Watson says. “We make sure to educate
ourselves on improving technologies and efficiencies in all our
Likewise, Mayfield always has its eyes open for ways
to make plant processes just a little bit better, more efficient.
“Most of the equipment and systems in the plant are controlled by
processors which give us the ability to make most changes quite
easily,” Watson says. “We’ve been able to add controls
— or just information — to HMI screens to allow machine
operators to do their jobs more efficiently. We have done in-house upgrades
on some equipment to replace old relays with a programmable controller. We
have designed and fabricated small pieces of equipment to do certain
As far as improvements yet to come, the company
reports it’s constantly striving to improve its production
opportunities. “We employ a very talented group of people,”
Watson says. “If we can think of it, we can normally figure out a way
to get it done.”
That includes logistics and distribution as well.
“We’ve got a full-time guy who runs logistics software for
routing,” explains company president Scottie Mayfield. “He
looks at our route structure on an ongoing basis to make sure we’re
minimizing our miles. We’ve got to get there on the frequency we need
to be there to have the good service we want. But as we grow and as a store
opens over here and the dynamics of the marketplace change, we need to
continually look at our route-sales structure. He can do a much better job
of getting an 85 or 90 percent accurate solution to a supervisor group than
those supervisors could get on their own.”
Much like the rest of the dairy industry at the
present time, Mayfield is not quite ready to embrace radio frequency
identification (RFID) technology. But as work to improve this logistics
innovation continues, its adoption remains in the cards.
“It’s not quite ready yet. It’s
still cost-prohibitive,” says general manager Mary Williams, noting
the company is studying its use. “But I do think over time, like
anything in technology, that’s something that will be
It’s something that retail grocery giant
Wal-Mart is expected to demand of its suppliers, but the folks at Mayfield
are confident that it won’t be a must until the cost factor is
overcome. “We have a good relationship with Wal-Mart where they trust
our input and opinion. Plus, they’re very knowledgeable,”
Mayfield says. “If it’s not going to reduce costs,
they’re not going to want to do it. If it does get to where it can
help us reduce costs, they will want to do it, and we will probably want to
do it, too.”
Quality and Safety
Mayfield employs a range of in-house and external programs to
ensure the quality of its processes, ingredients and finished products. Cycle
counts on daily and weekly schedules are used for specific ingredients and packaging,
says purchasing manager Alan Dyke.
Incoming shipments of ingredients, packaging and
purchased product are checked for bill-of-lading accuracy, proper
temperature range and overall condition, he explains.
Mayfield suppliers must qualify their products for
quality and integrity before they are considered for use in Mayfield
products. “The qualifying process begins with the sampling process
and is evaluated by our team of professionals,” Dyke says.
“Qualified Mayfield suppliers are evaluated on a regular basis on
product performance, supply chain performance, supplier history and
occasional visits to their production facilities. These evaluations are
kept on file and the results are communicated to the supplier.”
In-house inspections are conducted monthly by a
team consisting of members from each department to ensure food safety,
Derrick says. In addition, third-party audits are conducted twice annually.
Each year, Mayfield plant employees attend a refresher class
on HACCP, OSHA programs and good manufacturing practices. Furthermore, the company
sends its employees to training schools each year. Most of Mayfield’s
milk plant employees have attended some sort of dairy microbiology class.
Beyond safety of the finished product, safety of the folks who make it is a
high priority as well.
“Throughout the plant, we utilize input from
our employees, whether it is an idea for improvement or a potential safety
hazard,” says Anita Boring, Mayfield’s environmental, health
and safety coordinator. “All input is appreciated and considered. We
have an active safety committee that includes representatives from all
departments and backgrounds. This committee strives to recognize potential
safety hazards before an accident occurs. The committee is also utilized to
investigate accidents to insure proper measures are taken to prevent
Additionally, the company strives to make
workplace improvements from an ergonomic standpoint. “We have
attempted to make manual handling and other job duties that require
repetition as safe and easy as possible for our employees,” Boring
says. “When possible, we have switched ingredients from boxes or
buckets to totes, to prevent employees from having to handle heavy items.
This is an ongoing process where we continuously look for places to
improve. We also analyze our employee’s accidents watching for any
potential trends that may indicate a problem area.”
Mayfield’s Athens plant has its work cut out
for it, as one of three plants that must send a continuous flow of product
to some three dozen distribution facilities and transfer points throughout
Together with its sister plants, Athens holds its
own, and shows every sign it will continue to do so while undergoing a
constant process of upgrade and enhancement.
As long as Mayfield continues to grow in stature
as a brand in the company’s marketing area, the company has no choice
but to make sure its production facilities remain the best. df
Mayfield Plant at a Glance
Location: Athens, Tenn.
Built: 1950, with numerous additions and upgrades since then.
Products: Fluid milk, ice cream, frozen novelties.
Employees: 312 on up to three shifts.
Annual output: Approximately 47 million gallons of milk and 15 million
gallons of ice cream.
HTST: One @
9,000 gallons/hour, one @
7,500 gallons/hour, one @
Fluid capacity: 250,000 gallons/day raw milk, 14,800 gallons/day buttermilk,
20,000 gallons/day juices and drinks.
Ice cream blending capacity: 25 tanks totaling 154,000 gallons.
Since joining the Dean
Foods family, Mayfield has expanded its production facilities to serve a
wider area with its popular milk and ice cream products.
Joining the milk and ice cream plant at the
company’s Athens, Tenn., home base are the former Barber Dairies ice
cream plant in Birmingham, Ala., and a new fluid milk processing facility
in Braselton, Ga., northeast of Atlanta.
Opened in fall 1997, the $18.4 million fluid plant in Braselton
packages 19 million gallons of milk a year. The Braselton plant was constructed
using innovative designs in both the facility building and process controls,
says Mark Howard, plant manager. The building design incorporates insulated
non-bearing wall panels on the interior and exterior to meet the need for efficient
room expansions, Howard explains.
Processing equipment includes mag-flow meters for
accurate product control and data collection, optical sensors, microwave
tank-level sensors and a data highway network linking main AB controllers
with numerous stand-alone equipment systems.
Like the flagship plant in Athens, the Braselton
facility features a visitor center to offer the public a closer look at
Mayfield’s milk processing operations.
In December 1999, Barber Dairies became part of
Dean Foods’ Southeast Region, and within three months the
distribution of Mayfield Select ice cream was expanded farther into Alabama
through Barber’s distribution system.
By March 2002, the former Barber Ice Cream, now
known as Mayfield Ice Cream in Birmingham, was producing a selection of
Mayfield Select half-gallon flavors and some pint flavors and novelties.
The Birmingham plant packages about 13 million
gallons of ice cream annually. Built in the 1970s, the facility has
undergone several major expansions over the years in production, freezer
capacity and engineering support areas.
“We started production of Mayfield in Birmingham in February
2001, and we started introducing heavily into Alabama in 2002,” says Eddie
Allen, Birmingham plant manager. “At that point in time with the pre-Suiza
Dean Foods, Mayfield was the premiere ice cream in the Southeast, and the Barber
label was really struggling to survive in Alabama. As a business decision, the
introduction of the Mayfield label in Alabama was very successful. We thought
we could combat our major competitors better with Mayfield that we could with
$OMN_arttitle="The Yellow Pages";?>