Kawartha Dairy Limited: Celebrating 75 Years of Churning Out Beloved Products

Jack and Ila Crowe took a leap of faith in 1937 and bought a small dairy in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Today that company, Kawartha Dairy Limited (KDL), has grown from a simple three-room building to a plant supplying a wide range of wholesale customers, retail outlets, food service establishments and ice cream parlours with fresh dairy and juice products. One thing that has never changed, however, has been the 100-percent Canadian, 100-percent family-owned company’s commitment to quality and consistency.

In its early days KDL was a small processing operation with cold storage cooled by ice from the nearby lake. Stainless steel cans of milk were brought in from dairy farms in the surrounding region – on wagons in summer and by sleigh during the cold Ontario winters. Slowly the Crowes acquired an additional dairy in Bobcaygeon and added a Minden outlet, and in the mid 1950s Jack enrolled in an ice cream-making course at the University of Guelph, which paved the way for KDL to provide a beloved summer treat on which Ontarians still rely.

“Our formula is the same one Jack learned back in Guelph and we haven’t strayed from it at all,” beams Blake Frazer, KDL vice president and general manager. Today, KDL produces a full array of milk products. In addition, KDL churns out ice cream using 100-percent Canadian cream skimmed from its milk processing at its original headquarters in Bobcaygeon. The dairy plant is now Kosher-certified and HACCP-recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

A significant part of the business mix for KDL is the products it co-packs for others. This ranges from final products – such as hard ice cream, soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt mixes, and juices – to ingredient products such as a special buttermilk used in the baking industry.

Moo-ving into New Markets

Unlike other manufacturers who produce “frozen desserts” made with vegetable oils and butteroil-sugar blends, KDL insists on using fresh milk and real cream. The first two ingredients in every KDL flavour are always milk and cream, neither of which is imported. KDL was the first dairy to use the “Real Cream” symbol on its premium ice cream packaging, and consumers count on KDL for products that use as their base milk from local dairy farms, which is delivered daily.

“The movement to eat locally made products has really resonated with our loyal customer base and it has helped us expand into new markets,” says Frazer. KDL now has eight storefronts peppered across Ontario’s Cottage Country region selling ice creams, milks (skim, buttermilk, 2-percent, homogenized, chocolate and 1-percent), as well as butter, eggs, whipping cream, half-and-half cream and its ultra-rich eggnog under the Kawartha Dairy brand name. In addition the stores carry cheeses, cultured products, juice, breads, bakery items, snacks and coffee from many local companies. Summer-time demand can cause the team to add over 100 additional seasonal workers to the year-round staff of 145.

KDL’s management and employees have a wealth of experience in handling the huge spike in business that occurs every summer. Each of its retail stores serves thousands of ice cream cones, shakes and sundaes to throngs of tourists and cottagers. The iconic Minden location routinely has an eager line-up of customers at the take-out windows in peak season, and this following is being replicated at KDL’s other stores. In addition, the year-round retail stores offer convenient cash-and-carry service to local businesses.

KDL has a wholesale division and fleet of trucks to supply grocery, institutional and foodservice accounts with quality, Canadian-made dairy products. Its market area has expanded significantly in Ontario over the past decade.

To keep up with demand the company expanded its ice cream production facility within the past two years. The new facility has increased capacity and automation to churn out unique flavours like Caramel Snappers, Banana Boat and Wolf Paws. Simultaneously, the company launched a new 500 mL size for its top six selling flavours (which are Death by Chocolate, French Vanilla, Pralines & Cream, Mint Chip, Moose Tracks and Black Raspberry Thunder). The smaller size enables KDL to compete side-by-side in supermarket freezers with stalwarts like Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s at a much more competitive price point.

Outpacing the Market

In addition, KDL has boosted its sales with the help of a trusted network of distributors that take the ice cream into markets beyond KDL’s traditional footprint. Costco now carries select KDL flavours (such as Moose Tracks and Vanilla) in 2-litre packages in all Ontario locations. In addition, KDL now has distributors for the Niagara Peninsula and across the Greater Toronto Area.

“The Niagara region only picked up steam for us three years ago, but Toronto continues to help fuel our ice cream’s growth at a double-digit pace,” remarks Frazer. KDL has never had a major market presence in the markets of southwestern Ontario, but today KDL has distribution even into Kitchener, Guelph, London, and as far away as Ottawa.

Traditionally, milk and dairy products follow the growth trends of commodities, but KDL’s regional growth spurt defies the status quo. Five years ago KDL opened its Huntsville storefront and four years later opened its Peterborough location, faster than at any time in its history. The company celebrated the grand opening of its eighth store in Barrie, Ontario, in July 2011, just in time to serve a long line of customers looking to beat the summer heat. No plans are yet in motion for a ninth retail storefront, but the company is celebrating its 75-year anniversary throughout 2012.

Future plans may involve new products and flavours, but for now the company will focus on growing with the same strategic plan that has sustained the company through economic lows and highs. “We’re absolutely going to take our time to identify the best markets for our stores; it’s the strategy that enabled us to grow profitably and with few growing pains,” asserts Frazer.

In the next few years the company team will continue to churn out the best dairy products Ontario has to offer, while focusing on growing organically. In the process Kawartha Dairy Limited will help to promote local products and strengthen both itself and Canadian dairies for generations to come.