50 years with Kroger and Michigan Dairy

On an average day, one out of every seven American adults will make a trip to the grocery store, as reported by the Time Use Institute. Those Americans will spend about 43 minutes stocking up on butter and bread, perusing apples and avocados and pushing their shopping carts down polished alleys of frozen food.

And to those of us in the dairy industry, we ardently hope for those shopping carts to roll to the dairy case and for that American shopper to retrieve a gallon of milk—plus some yogurt, sour cream and cheese while they’re at it.

The United States’ largest operator of traditional grocery stores is Kroger, welcoming a large portion of those grocery store shoppers each day. When you’re in the state of Michigan, that gallon of milk is bottled at the Michigan Dairy and best of all, it starts with ‘Pure Michigan’ milk. The Michigan Dairy, operated by the Kroger Co. of Michigan, is now celebrating 50 years bringing fresh, wholesome milk to their customers.

“Michigan Dairy in Livonia, Michigan, opened in August 1967 as The Kroger Dairy producing fluid milk, culture and ice cream. In the early 1980s the name changed to Michigan Dairy to accommodate custom sales,” said Regina Kopera, site leader of the Michigan Dairy.

For a short time, a custom account contributed to over 50 percent of the product being produced at the plant. When that business was acquired by another company, that volume was replaced with Kroger products and the plant is currently focused on fluid milk, cottage cheese and sour cream, according to Kopera.

“We bottle an average of 100,000 gallons of milk a day. It takes around 13,750 cows to supply Michigan Dairy daily,” Kopera continued.

And where might you find those 13,750 cows? On none other than MMPA member farms.

It started with a three-year, 100 percent supply contract when the plant opened. And today, 50 years later, the Michigan Dairy’s receiving bays still welcome MMPA-contracted haulers and process MMPA member milk for 152 Kroger stores in Michigan and Ohio.

Jack Barnes, the general manager of MMPA in 1967, described the full supply agreement between MMPA and Kroger in a column in the Michigan Milk Messenger that year. The construction of the plant came at a time when many local receiving stations were closing in favor of milk being brought directly to the plant for processing.

“We think this agreement is very important to MMPA and to all dairymen,” wrote Barnes. He noted arrangements like this one were part of MMPA’s strategy at the time and provide “long range stability to MMPA’s program.”

The agreement continues to provide value to MMPA members today, but only now, MMPA and Kroger work together on more initiatives than just bottling and processing milk from member farms.

Michigan Dairy in Livonia
The Michigan Dairy first welcomed MMPA member milk on its first day of production in August of 1967.

MMPA honored The Kroger Co. of Michigan with the inaugural Valued Partner Award at MMPA’s 101st Annual State Delegate Meeting on March 23. The two organizations have sustained a partnership that extends into a variety of initiatives from food security to youth development to dairy promotion.

In his speech recognizing The Kroger Co. of Michigan with the award, MMPA President Ken Nobis referenced MMPA’s core values—quality, integrity, progressive, leadership and community—as indicative of MMPA’s relationship with Kroger that extends beyond just a supply agreement.

“Through these values, MMPA remains focused on the needs of our members and our community,” Nobis explained. “They also have steered us to partner with organizations and customers who share our values. One such customer who we have partnered with over the years is The Kroger Co. of Michigan.”

According to The Kroger Co. of Michigan, they continually give back to their communities in the areas of hunger relief, better health, sustainability, good neighbor activities and diversity. “We are committed to helping individuals and organizations within the communities we serve, which is why we surveyed our customers and associates to determine what key areas would allow us to make the greatest impact.”

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Michigan Dairy, Kroger hosted an open house for the community on August 12. Over 1,000 attendees had the opportunity to tour the plant, participate in games and activities while learning more about dairy.

Horning Farms, the MMPA member farm that has supplied the Michigan Dairy for the longest period of time, brought a cow and a calf to show. Meanwhile, three Michigan Dairy Ambassadors–Lindsey Sharrard, Steven Wilkinson and Mason Horning—engaged in conversations about dairy with the plant visitors.

More and more consumers hope to spend their money with a company committed to its values and giving back to local communities. Reaching each shopper every day is increasingly challenging, but The Kroger Co. of Michigan’s initiatives with local dairy farmers and other crucial communities may just be the key.

Four ways MMPA partners with Kroger »

–Allison Stuby Miller

This article originally appeared in the September issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger