Chugging Along

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 Tennessee.
“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.”
Farther Reaching
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 resources.
“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 Atlanta.
“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 before.”
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 chains.
Athens’ Own
But the milk in the yellow jugs stamped with the Mayfield logo still remains near and dear to the hearts of the folks in Athens.
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 year-round.”
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 industry.”
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 sustaining segment.”
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 research.
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 three years.
“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 community groups.
“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 drinking milk.
“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 jugs.
“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 hand.”
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 players.”
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 product.”
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 faraway relatives.
“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 important.”
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 production.”
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.”
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