Englewood / Greeley / Broomfield, Colorado
Englewood / Greeley / Broomfield (HQ: Dallas)
Publicly traded (NYSE: DF)
Employees: 17,000 employees nationwide
"It isn’t just manufacturing," explains Dean Foods' VP of Research and Development, Dean Lippold. Today, competition’s stiff in the dairy industry, and it isn’t necessarily coming from other milk manufacturers.
Non-dairy beverages, for example, have captured some health-conscious consumers, and Dean Foods is ready to draw them back with its hydrating, dairy-based products, boasting high-quality proteins (milk's filled with essential amino acids) and vitamins and minerals, too.
Enter Lippold’s department, bringing to consumers new ideas that are almost as fresh as the company’s milk. And, that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Dean Foods' history.
In 1993, Suiza Foods Corporation came up with a smart new idea: It bought up dozens of smaller, family-owned dairies. When it acquired an iconic Midwestern brand -- Dean Foods Company -- in 2001, Suiza took on the name to become the nation's largest processor and direct-to-store distributor of fluid milk.
Dean Foods carries more than fifty local and regional dairy brands -- some of which have been around for over a century. Regionally, consumers know Meadow Gold for its wholesome, great-tasting products.
That brand is actually two brands now: Meadow Gold was co-branded, and operates as Meadow Gold DairyPure, a white milk cutting into creams and creamers, and four-year-old Meadow Gold TruMoo, a healthier take on chocolate milk that, Lippold notes, "is about three times bigger than Nesquik."
With co-branding, Dean Foods reaps the benefits of national advertising, and consumers feel connected with a product that’s authentically local.
Meadow Gold might not own its own cows, but the company buys milk from a trusted network of local dairy farmers and co-ops. That does more than foster consumer connection while spurring Colorado's economy, and it's also critical for creating the taste profile consumers expect from Dean Foods. A cow might be milked at, say, 4 a.m., and, explains Lippold, "The milk gets into our factory that morning, is processed, bottled, and might be on the shelf within twelve hours."
"All of our milk comes from cows that are fed a healthy diet," he continues, noting that the company doesn’t buy from dairies that use growth hormones; its products are "continually quality checked from farm to factory," he adds.
Dean Foods hocks fresh milk -- as opposed to the ultra-pasteurized variety – and passes on artificial colors, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.
Innovative products like low-sugar TruMoo and a new ready-to-drink iced coffee -- produced last spring in four cities (Denver included) in partnership with Caribou Coffee -- are created and tested locally.
"This is the only Research and Development Center in the country for the $9 billion company," says Lippold. "All of the innovation comes through the Colorado R&D Center, and that feeds local manufacturing."
Lippold and his team focus on new product and packaging development, and their R&D Center boasts a full-scale culinary kitchen, pilot and packaging plants, and a sensory area for on-site consumer testing.
"We test dozens of ideas throughout the year, if not more," says Lippold. Some of those come from in-house employees; others, like TruMoo, are formally assigned.
Open since 2008, Dean Foods' R&D Center in Broomfield has been a worthwhile investment because, as Lippold puts it, "We need new consumer-driven products in order to fulfill our vision of being the most admired provider of wholesome dairy foods."
Challenges: Consumer demands change rapidly, and one of the biggest challenges -- especially from an innovation standpoint -- is keeping up with trends. "Cottage cheese, for example, has more protein than most Greek yogurt," Lippold says. "Consumers don’t always understand that, and our challenge is to take the inherent nutrition in dairy, and match it up with modern needs."
Opportunities: What consumers don't fully understand, Lippold says, is that milk is a great source of hydration. It's a high-quality protein, too, with all of the essential amino acids, and it's packed with vitamins and minerals. "There are a lot of nutritional benefits to it, benefits that some of the plant-based beverages don't have," he says, noting that his company -- and, more generally, the dairy industry -- have a huge opportunity to put milk back on the map as one of the original health foods.
Needs: "From an innovation perspective, we’re always looking for new ideas and new talent to develop those ideas," says Lippold.