Tradition and innovation make Mayfield Dairy Farms
an important member of the Dean family.
An addendum to the
old cliché: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it —
nurture it. And that’s exactly the relationship Mayfield Dairy Farms
has with parent Dean Foods Co.
A division of Dean since 1990, Athens, Tenn.-based
Mayfield is still managed by its founding family, and has grown to be one
of the dominant brands in Dean’s Southeast Region. Its milk in the
trademark yellow jugs and decadent flavors of ice cream have been able to
reach a wider consumer base through a winning combination of talents.
President Scottie Mayfield puts it more plainly,
when assessing almost every aspect of his company’s business —
“a pretty darn good job.” That job accounts for some $300
million in annual sales.
Joining the Dean ranks more than a decade before
its merger with Suiza, Mayfield has benefited enormously from the vast
resources of the combined company. Meanwhile, Mayfield is still synonymous
with high quality and wholesome family goodness that is shared with a
customer base beyond those who know it best, in the hills of eastern
“From a consumer standpoint, we are a very
regional, local company,” says Mary Williams, general manager and
vice president of sales and marketing. “When Dean bought us, we were
still able to make our own decisions here. There was a concern, I think,
among consumers that we were going to change the way our milk tastes, that
we were going to change our ice cream.”
Such was not the case. “Dean Foods
didn’t want us to. They wanted us to be Mayfield, the same,
successful company that we had always been,” Williams says. “At
the same time, when Dean and Suiza merged, it became even more evident they
wanted local management to take care of business. We know our customers
better than anybody does, and they want to make sure we continue down that
same path of keeping our customers and consumers happy.”
And it’s obvious that, in the years since
Dean entered the picture, Mayfield has flourished to an extent that its
managers admit would not have been possible without its parent’s
“They helped us renovate our plant with
the most modern processing and packaging equipment. We redid all the gallon
fillers, the half-gallon fillers, the small bottles — one project
after another for 10 years,” says vice president Rob Mayfield, also
noting the company’s brand-new fluid plant in Braselton, Ga., near
“And yet, we stayed Mayfield. We stayed
true to our yellow jugs, our vacuum treatment. Everything grew at a
tremendous rate,” he says. “And with the Dean-Suiza merger, we
get the expertise and capital to keep growing our business.”
Rob and Scottie maintain family management of
the enterprise their great-grandfather began and their fathers nourished.
“Before the new Dean merger, Mayfield was
kind of sitting here on an island. We really didn’t have a sister
plant that close by,” Scottie Mayfield says. “Now we have other
divisions in more close proximity. We have a regional management structure
in the Southeast that provides more help than we ever had
Divisions within the region are encouraged to
seek input from their sister dairies, whose territories are generally
divided by geographical boundaries like the Great Smoky Mountains, he says.
Williams says customers also benefit.
“Being a part of a Fortune 200 company really does provide them a
sense of reliability,” she says. “We are considered to be the
experts in the dairy industry, and our customers come to us and ask for
help in their particular categories. Because we’re part of that big
corporation, were able to provide our customers more services. And on top
of that, I think they expect it.”
Dean also opened Mayfield’s eyes to
projects not before considered. “They encouraged us to look at things
differently,” says controller Mark Cox, using the company’s
private label milk processing as an example. “We do not process the
milk the same way that we process Mayfield milk. But we were open to
running that product, so we made sure it wasn’t the same as Mayfield
milk. Before, we would never have thought about running private label, and
now we do.”
Mayfield processes private label milk for some
major supermarket chains, as well as ice cream for several major restaurant
But the milk in the yellow jugs stamped with the
Mayfield logo still remains near and dear to the hearts of the folks in
Back in 1955, the company installed a vacreator,
which uses a vacuum process to remove off flavors and odors from milk.
While the overall industry’s flirtations with this technology have
come and gone, Scottie Mayfield says, it remains an integral part of
Mayfield processing. “Dairy farmers do a better job with the flavor
of their milk, but it still gives our milk a consistent flavor, and I think
it makes Mayfield milk uniform,” he says.
“You get a slight cooked flavor consumers
perceive as richness,” Rob Mayfield adds. “It tastes the same
The yellow jug arrived in 1983, the distinctive
coloring added to block and reflect light to protect the milk’s
flavor and nutrients. They’re still made at the Athens plant, which
launched the first successful in-plant blow-molding operation in 1970. And
just recently, Mayfield went from yellow to brown for its chocolate milk
bottles — because yellow “just didn’t look right,”
Scottie Mayfield says — and sales rose.
Of course, as far as bottles go, Mayfield is the
birthplace of the Chug, the Dean innovation that launched a new
single-serve revolution in 1995.
“We had two old quart machines. They were
worn out and we needed to replace them,” Scottie Mayfield recalls.
“Dean Foods had come up with this idea that at the time we called the
‘small bottle.’ As soon as we saw it, we said, ‘Can we do
that?’ I think they were looking for a way to test it. So we got to
launch that for Dean Foods. It’s just been a positive thing for our
Sales of chocolate milk promptly doubled for
Mayfield upon introduction of the Chug, Williams notes.
Mayfield also takes credit for introducing the
first two-piece scround ice cream cartons, now standard on the
company’s Select ice cream line.
The scround made it possible to market on a
broader scale a frozen dessert product unique to Mayfield — Snow
Cream, originally a seasonal feature that has become one of the
company’s top sellers year-round.
Snow cream is actually a treat Southern folks
have made at home for generations, using bowlfuls of the South’s rare
snowfalls combined with milk, sugar and vanilla. Licensing the name and
recipe from a small North Carolina scoop shop operator, Mayfield came out
with Snow Cream about five years ago in bulk cans for foodservice.
The square packaging available at the time
didn’t lend itself well to retail sales of the slushy frozen dessert.
The sturdier, lidded scround changed that. And while most Mayfield ice
cream cartons are yellow, Snow Cream scrounds sport a distinctive winter
scene in shades of blue.
“People that come from a place where snow
is fun know about it,” Scottie Mayfield explains. “People that
come from a place that either doesn’t have snow or snow is not really
fun don’t know about it. It’s a very refreshing vanilla flavor.
And we weren’t thinking about it at the time, but it’s very low
in fat and has about half the calories of regular ice cream. We were just
trying to copy that nostalgic thing our moms used to do.”
In December, it was Mayfield’s top-selling
flavor, and has stayed in the top 10. It has since given birth to a new
novelty, Snow Cream Sticks, and led Mayfield to reposition its half-gallon
vanilla-flavored milk as Snow Cream Milk.
Among other new product successes for Mayfield
is the Less Carbs line of ice cream designed to capture a piece of the
reduced-carbohydrate dieting trend.
The line initially launched with four packaged
flavors — vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan and Neapolitan.
“We’re looking at three new products that will fit into our
Less Carbs line,” says marketing manager Alan Owen. “One of
those may be a novelty.”
Despite the apparent fading of the low-carb trend, Owen
says the line will have staying power due to demand from diabetics for
better sugar-free products. “They have done well in light of downward
trends in that segment,” he says. “I think the craze part of
that fad may be behind us, but I think it will level off and still be a
This month, Mayfield was expected to roll out
Cookies and Cream, an addition to its Select line featuring white chocolate
mousse ice cream with dark chocolate cookies. There are also some feature
flavors in the works for next spring. Owen says.
Appealing to Consumers
Despite being part of a national company,
Mayfield still is a very regional brand that must compete with private
label and other brands, even with its devoted local following.
“We have really been challenged since the
price increase in May to maintain a competitive advantage and keep the
price spread as low as possible,” Owen says.
But it goes beyond store brands, says Robbie
Roberts, director of sales. “Our top competitor is not necessarily
just private label. There are national players out there in ice cream that
are really battling it out among each other and bringing tough competition
to the regional players,” he says. “But with the innovation of
new flavors and our consistent promotional strategies, we’re
competing really well with those folks.”
Part of that strategy includes stressing
Mayfield’s local legacy along with its quality of product. “We
emphasize the fact our company has been around a long time. We’re a
Southern-based company with roots in this area since the early
1920s,” Owen says. “One of the main differences in our ice
cream is the fact that we have a milk plant adjacent to our ice cream
facility that allows us to pipe over fresh cream to use in the product.
That’s the same in Birmingham as well as Athens.”
Mayfield’s management team says it all
comes back to the company’s mission statement: top-quality products,
top-quality people, top-quality service.
“Another thing is we do a great job
listening to our consumers,” Owen says. “We encourage people to
contact us. We put our address on our packages, we put our phone number, we
have a Web site you can contact us through, we have a dedicated consumer
affairs department. The feedback we get from those folks is very helpful
and insightful in moving us in the right direction. Plus, we spend a lot of
money on research. We go into different markets and ask consumers what they
think about products.”
According to Owen, Mayfield’s target
audience is women age 25 to 49 with children in the home. Marketing efforts
to reach that demographic include radio and television spots, along with
Mayfield’s Mom Squad, whose members, Owen says. “do a wonderful
job at being ambassadors for Mayfield.”
So wonderful, in fact, that they helped Mayfield
earn a 2004 Achieving Excellence award from the International Dairy Foods
Association (IDFA) for best overall public relations campaign.
Presentations followed by a healthy-snacks party help deliver their
message, along with recipe books, coupons and copies of health articles and
This year, Mayfield is celebrating 50 years
serving the Chattanooga market, about an hour southwest of its home base.
Meanwhile, one of Mayfield’s next big frontiers appears to be
Alabama, where the company’s ice cream continues to develop a
following since supplanting Dean’s Barber brand there within the past
“We have the number-two share there behind
Blue Bell, and we have the number-one novelty brand in the state,”
Owen says. “Charlotte [N.C.] is another area of growth for us. In
January we went into [retailer] Harris Teeter. We’ve had outstanding
success in the short time we’ve been there, and we believe we will
continue to grow that business.”
Growth to date is already significant.
“We’re a very regional company, but Mayfield also has a
national presence when we’re talking to our customers,” says
Roberts. “We’ve got a 4.4 percent ACV nationally from a
distribution standpoint, but we have the number-two selling 2 percent milk
in the country. That says a lot for what we do.”
On the Move
Meanwhile, as nutritional experts are aghast at
the growth rate of America’s waistlines, Mayfield sees growth
opportunities for itself and the industry in stemming that tide.
Tennessee is home to both Mayfield and the
research that has dairy on cloud nine, so such a teaming couldn’t be
more appropriate. The company has signed on as a corporate sponsor of
Tennessee on the Move, the local chapter of America on the Move. This
effort promotes a walking regimen of 2,000 steps per day and a decrease in
daily calories of 100 as a recipe for weight loss.
The program teams Mayfield up with Dr. Michael
Zemel, whose research at the University of Tennessee showed a link between
intake of dairy calcium and weight control. “Their goal is a little
more activity and a little less food,” Rob Mayfield says.
“Tennessee on the Move has a third part — three servings of
dairy a day — so it’s a natural for us.”
Bringing its Mom Squad into the picture,
Mayfield produced a 10-minute video (of which a snippet can be viewed on
its Web site) that the Squad shows as part of its presentations for
“The video talks about the nutrition of
milk, how important it is for women and men to drink milk,” Williams
explains. “We interview Dr. Zemel and really talk about the
nutritional elements and how it aids in weight loss.”
The campaign also touches other media. “In
the past two years, we have run a print campaign specifically on Nu-Trish,
a 1 percent lowfat milk that aids in digestion due to the addition of
cultures acidophilus and bifidum,” Owen says. In addition, the
company administers a school vending program that promotes the benefits of
“I think dairy products have gotten more
positive press in the past few years than ever before,” Scottie
Mayfield says, “and I think the baby boomer generation and the next
generation are pretty interested in being healthier than their parents
were. So I think the fact that milk really is good for you is going to
contribute to our success as an industry. Ice cream’s not nearly as
good for you, but it’s better than a lot of other things that would
replace it as a snack or dessert. And if the soft drink people continue to
enter the milk business, it’s going to introduce more people to milk,
whatever form it is, and I think it will help us.”
Dealing with Challenges
Cox says Mayfield’s biggest financial
challenge, as it seems to be throughout the industry, is keeping up with
raw costs. Even so, customers seem to be remaining loyal to their yellow
“The media has helped us in educating the
consumers that raw milk has gone up, that it wasn’t an isolated
thing, that it was across the country,” Cox says. “But we
evaluate our operations every day, trying to maintain our costs, to keep
them down. We try to stay on top of them before they get out of
That helps keep Mayfield competitive with
lower-priced alternatives. “One of the biggest challenges we have at
Mayfield is keeping our price spreads in check versus private
labels,” Roberts says. “Retailers that are vertically
integrated have their own plants, and they’ve got products to sell
themselves. We find ourselves with anywhere from a $1.20 to $1.30 spread,
and we continue to sell product. From an ice cream standpoint, it has
become such a promoted item that the national players seem to always be
able to ante up to a much higher level than most regional
And all seem to agree declining fluid sales
remains an ongoing struggle. “In the past, we competed with other
dairies,” Allen says. “Now we have to compete with other
dairies and other products.”
The company also has to stay on its toes
logistically. “Our customers look to us for service, and we’re
one of the best in the industry on service,” Williams says.
“It’s something that’s on the forefront of our minds
every day, to make sure we continue to provide that service. Customers
expect service and consumers expect taste. Those are the things we’ve
got to continue to do.”
According to John “Butch” Raper,
director of distribution, Mayfield has about 500 delivery routes. “We
make about 30,000 deliveries a week of milk and ice cream,” he says.
Maintaining a quality workforce also is a
challenge, something for which Scottie Mayfield blesses his company’s
low turnover. “We give an anniversary gift on the fifth, 10th, 15th,
20th, 25th, 30th, 35th and 40th anniversaries,” he says, referring to
a list of long-tenured employees. “There’s 150 people right
here who have been here more than 10 years, 50 for more than 20 years and
the top of this page is more than 30 years. We have a neat place to work;
we have a good atmosphere. Finding people in this world is a challenge, but
it’s something we’ve done a pretty darn good job at.”
Raper echoes that sentiment. “Quality
people are getting harder and harder to find,” he says.
“It’s hard to find people who really want to work on
what’s involved in the dairy business.”
Focus on Quality
What gives Mayfield an edge in the marketplace?
Quality and consistency, for starters.
“One of the greatest things we have going
for us is we will not compromise on quality,” Allen says. “Our
consumers want consistency. They want to know that a gallon of milk or
package of ice cream is going to be exactly the same if they buy it in
Florida, Tennessee, Alabama or Mississippi. We strive throughout our
organization, not only with incoming raw ingredients to manufacturing
products to distribution, to make sure we’re providing a consistent
Using those factors as a basis for growth, the next
step is gaining visibility for the brand in new marketing areas.
“In the Atlanta area, you have a lot of
people who’ve moved in who are not familiar with the Mayfield
name,” Cox says. “We have to educate them about who we are and
the benefits of our product.”
Potential also exists with the growing Hispanic
populations in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. “We have done
some things with packaging to address that — putting the name
‘leche’ on our gallons and half gallons of whole milk bottled
in Braselton,” Owen says.
The company will continue to experience growth,
says Scottie Mayfield, by staying on course. “We understand
there’s a large group of consumers out there who do enjoy
good-tasting dairy products. We’ve got to keep serving them. As long
as we do that, we’re going to be all right,” he says.
“We’re not in an industry that has, in my opinion, a huge
amount of change. We have consolidations and supermarkets, all those kinds
of changes, but that’s no different than if we were selling green
beans. Milk and ice cream per capita consumption hasn’t changed a lot
and probably won’t change a lot for years to come. So our challenge
is to get out there to those people who appreciate good food.”
And those who have come to appreciate Mayfield
milk are reluctant to drink anyone else’s. “If you’re
used to Mayfield products, and suddenly you’re out of our marketing
area, you’ll notice the dairy products may taste different,”
Rob Mayfield says, relating how the company recently shipped product to a
local National Guard unit sent out of state for training, after learning
the GIs missed their hometown milk. Williams adds that people routinely
call the company wanting to take milk on vacation or ship ice cream to
“Once people taste our products, they
become very loyal,” Scottie Mayfield says. “Our milk generally
costs more than others, so if you can’t tell the difference in the
flavor, why would you buy Mayfield milk?”
And as the South grows, Mayfield finds a growing
following in new marketing areas. “We have some territories we
haven’t been in long,” Mayfield says. “Alabama,
we’ve only been in for three years and we’re the number-one
novelty and tied for number two packaged ice cream. We feel really good
about that because everybody else had a head start.”
The goal is to get as many people buying
Mayfield’s milk and ice cream as possible, Mayfield says. “We
want to sell to hospitals and nursing homes. We want to sell to schools. We
want to sell to convenience stores. We want to sell to restaurants. We want
to sell to big and small grocery stores and supermarkets,” he says.
“If you sell milk, we want to sell it to you. We want to be in all
those distribution channels.”
Part of the Community
Mayfield gives its area managers a degree of
freedom in getting involved in community activities across the
company’s marketing area.
“It’s their job to be involved,
it’s their desire — thank goodness — to be involved in
the community and they make decisions all the time just because
that’s the way we do business,” Scottie Mayfield says.
Any direction from the top just defines an overall philosophy
to help guide managers faced with a deluge of requests from the community, Mayfield
explains. “As a company, we’ve embraced activities that involve children,” he
says. “Sometimes we give money. Sometimes we give time — we go help do things.
A lot of times we give product. But I think we have a good commitment to that.
I’m proud of it.”
That pro-family outlook guides management of the company as well.
“We are a division in a large
entity, but Mayfield still has a family feel,” Allen says. “Our
leaders are quick to say that’s what’s most
This attitude instills pride among
Mayfield’s employees. “If Scottie Mayfield’s walking in
in the morning and sees people out here huddled, talking on break,
he’ll talk to them for 15 or 20 minutes,” Owen says. “If
Robbie Roberts goes through the plant, he’ll walk up to a packer and
relieve him for a few minutes, because he came up through
After years of being nurtured to its current state,
where will Mayfield be five years from now? “I see us rocking along
just like we have been,” Scottie Mayfield says. “I see us with
a little bit bigger share of the milk market in Atlanta, a little bit
bigger share of the ice cream market in the Southeast. We’ll still be
looking for those little things to do to make us more efficient, offer
better service. In the last five years, we have come from a pretty darn
good sales team to a very knowledgeable sales team, using the latest
information available to us. We have made a bigger commitment to utilizing
category management. We’re really doing a superb job using the
technology that’s out there to try to understand what’s going
on with our customers and our consumers.”
Customers seem to understand what
Mayfield’s all about, too. “We had a buyer in here yesterday,
and when he left, he came away from here feeling like we were the most
sincere company that he’d called on,” Mayfield says.
Williams adds: “I think that he felt like
milk is milk, and I think we were able to change him and he believes now
there is something special about Mayfield.”
Scottie, part of the fourth generation of Mayfield family management,
reflects on that history. “I just think we are very straightforward and honest,
and want to give the consumer value,” he says. “Rob’s dad, he was a ‘plant guy,’
but I think he is one of the greatest marketers that has ever been, because
he was concerned about the person that was eventually going to put this stuff
in their mouth. We really are focused on that consumer. It’s hard to describe,
but once you’ve been part of it for a while, you understand it.”
It’s the active involvement, too, of management in daily operations.
“We’re out in the stores and calling
on customers and at grocer association meetings,” Mayfield says.
“We’re really involved at every level.”
Cox tries to sum up the Mayfield experience. “I think it goes
back to our mission statement — top quality products, top quality people, top
quality service,” he says. “We present ourselves as the best.”