Naturally Iowa began with one simple idea: bringing back the goodness of locally produced natural and organic milk products.
Co-founders William Horner and Steve Williams both grew up on farms in southwestern Iowa, and later returned to farming after completing their education. In 2002, the two partnered to provide an opportunity for family-operated dairy farms to make a comeback by adding value to their product. They applied for a Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development grant from the USDA, and proceeded to put their plans into action in 2004.
The Naturally Iowa group found a revolutionary type of plastic made from corn that biodegrades in the compost bin or local landfill. Naturally Iowa developed a working partnership with NatureWorks, a subsidiary of Cargill Inc., and became the world’s first dairy to use bottles made from polylactic acid (PLA), a substance derived from corn.
Organic milk in PLA bottles landed on grocery store shelves in October 2005, after the company’s 28,500-square-foot processing plant began operation, giving life to the company’s slogan, “We milk the cows and grow the bottles.” The company currently manufactures PLA bottles for sale to other processors.
Naturally Iowa cold separates its fluid milk, which management argues allows for the highest-quality end product in terms of flavor “while maintaining the naturally healthful benefits of organic or all-natural milk.”
Drinkable yogurt goes through a slightly different process after the milk is pasteurized and homogenized, using an exclusive formula that sustains the beneficial probiotic bacteria strains for up to 60 days. The ice cream production wing of the plant can produce more than 300 gallons per hour in a variety of package sizes and shapes.
“We believe that small farms help preserve our land, individual and family well-being, and connectedness to the food we eat. Therefore, Naturally Iowa strives to support small farms in every way possible,” says CEO Horner.
For the past 16 years, Horner has partnered in multiple international agricultural marketing ventures throughout the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. But it was on his own Iowa farm where he grew up in the 1940s and ’50s that the impetus for the development of an organic dairy processing plant came about.
The company, which went public in September 2007, is projecting 2008 sales will substantially exceed 2007 sales. “Due to the increased awareness of environmentally friendly packaging and organic and all-natural dairy products, we are experiencing tremendous interest not only in our core dairy product lines, but also in our PLA packaging solutions,” Horner says, “Opportunities in our current sales cycle range from retail stores to food service in the government, military and universities to private label partnerships.”
Naturally Iowa has added to its already eco-conscious Ingeo bottle for fluid milk, a new EarthFirst shrink wrap Ingeo label and package for its new probiotic drinkable yogurt line, Yogurt 7.0. Ingeo is the trademark name for a new natural plastic material made 100% from annually renewable plant resources.
“We have found ourselves a competitive edge,” Horner told an audience at the IDFA’s SmartMarketing conference in March, where he presented his vision for a more environmental and modern business strategy. “It’s not a sure thing we’ll be here five years from now, but if not, we’ll die trying.”
At A GlanceNaturally Iowa
Headquarters: Clarinda, Iowa
Products made: Organic milk, ice cream, frozen yogurt and drinkable yogurt.
Brands: Naturally Iowa, Falk’s.
Annual sales: $1 million - $2 million
Management team: William Horner, president and CEO; Dano Strong, VP of sales and marketing; Paul Horner, CFO; Richard Jensen, operations manager.
Web site: www.naturallyiowa.com