News: Greenwood - Grassland Dairy Operation (2016)
Surnames: Wuethrich, Lee
----Source: Tribune/Record/Gleaner (Abbotsford, Wis.) 14 Jul 2016
So much butter
Grassland Dairy ranks among world’s top producers of creamy products
by Dean Lesar, Loyal Tribune Record Gleaner
BUTTER BUSINESS -- Grassland Dairy Products owners (from left) Dallas, Tayt and Trevor Wuethrich with a recent award from the Wisconsin Dairy Producers Association for their service to the industry.
Three massive state-of-the-art churns inside Grassland Dairy Products’ Greenwood plant turn out 42,000 pounds of butter. Each one. Every hour. Twenty-four hours per day.
You don’t have to do the math to realize that’s a lot of butter, enough to place Grassland as one of the leading butter producers not just in Wisconsin, and not just in the United States, but in the world. Along with four other plants it owns and operates in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Utah, Grassland produces fantastic tonnages of butter in every imaginable form, from the sticks you might use in a cookie recipe, to the small pats you might find on a cruise line dinner table, to bulk amounts used by bakers. And you probably consume more of Grassland’s butter than you realize, as the company produces it under more than 70 labels distributed all around the United States, Mexico and South America.
The Greenwood Grassland Dairy Products plant has been in the same location southeast of Greenwood off Highway 98 for more than a century. It’s the site where John Wuethrich started a cooperative of Eaton-area farmers in 1904. He continued a Wuethrich family heritage of cheese and butter making that started some 300 years ago in Switzerland, and began the business venture that would grow over the decades to become the butter behemoth it is today.
John D. Wuethrich took over for his father and ran the business for decades, before turning over the reins to his son, Dallas. Dallas has subsequently passed the main management duties over to his sons, Tayt and Trevor, and family ownership will remain for years to come.
“They’ve already started planning for the fifth generation,” said Maureen Lee, Grassland’s marketing and communications director.
The Grassland operation has been growing steadily through the years. A major plant expansion several years ago added the capability of the plant to delve into new products made from the components of milk not used in butter. Massive dryers turns out tons of various milk powders used in products such as protein bars and shakes, and the Greenwood factory also makes anhydrous milk fat products used by candy manufacturers.
But it is butter — so much butter — upon which Grassland has built its brand. The main production facility is still in Greenwood, with Grassland’s West Point Dairy plants in Nebraska and Utah specializing in making brands with rBST-free milk. Grassland has also purchased plants to make butter in Bonduel and Richland Center, with the smaller facilities targeted for diversification into specialized products. More may be added.
“They’ve been trying to find family owned creameries for manufacturing,” Lee said.
The Greenwood plant is manned by more than 530 employees staffing three shifts that keep the plant running around the clock. Millions of pounds of milk arrive at the plant each day, and are stored until directed through the butter churns. Through literally miles of stainless steel piping, the finished butter is directed to various lines where it is blended with various oils and processed into retail products, spreadable tubs, and whipped varieties. Automated processes package the butter in all shapes and sizes, from 5-pound blocks primarily used in the food service industry, to small chips and cups used in restaurants or ocean cruise lines.
Lee said about 45 percent of Grassland’s butter goes for retail purposes. Some is packaged under various Grassland labels and distributed to grocers, but much is contracted out to dozens of companies that want to sell a butter with their name on it.
“We’re producing a lot of different labels,” Lee said, although the company is currently making an effort to expand the Grassland name on its products. Doing so will create efficiencies by not having to switch product packaging on lines as often, Lee said, and also to coincide with a re-branding effort to increase the company’s name in the market.
About 10 percent of Grassland’s butter is sent out to industrial users, in larger quantities. It is used by large food producers that need large amounts of butter to bake their products. The remaining amount is sold to the food service industry, with restaurants, hotels and other dining outlets buying pats and chips for placing on tables.
Grassland has been constantly upgrading its technology to respond to changing market needs. It has vastly increased its raw milk storage capabilities, to make sure there is always enough on hand to feed the churns. Those three machines are the heart of the operation: monstrous mechanical contraptions that do the job that a single person once did with a wooden churn on a front porch.
“The basic function is the same as it has been for years,” Lee said of the churning process. “It’s using force to pound the cream into a semi-solid state.
Regulations in the U.S. require that any product labeled as butter contain at least 80 percent butterfat, Lee said. Churn operators have to monitor that, as well as other qualities of the butter to meet quality levels.
“Our churn operators are testing the butter for salt content basically every hour,” Lee said.
The butter market is more localized for Grassland because of refrigeration needs, and the product is mainly sold in the U.S., Mexico and South America. Other dry products produced at the plants are shipped farther away, with the anhydrous milk fat heading to Africa and the Middle East, and powders sold in various Asian countries.
Of course, to make huge quantities of butter, a plant needs incredible amounts of milk. Try more than five million pounds, the amount Lee said is brought into the Greenwood location on a daily basis.
“We have over 600 farms that ship milk directly to us and they are from all over the state,” Lee said. In addition, Grassland buys tanker loads of cream from cheese factories that do not use that component for their products.
“We have haulers bringing in cream all hours of the day,” Lee said. “Because we’re a private company, we’re able to buy milk as we need it.”
Some of the cream is delivered by contracted truckers, but Grassland also has a Wuethrich Transportation subsidiary that is responsible for bringing in the raw ingredients, and then delivering finished products to customers. The Wuethrich Transportation fleet includes more than 30 tanker and cargo semi-trailers, with 20-30 drivers on staff.
Although Grassland has been steadily increasing its basic butter production through the years, Lee said it has also been investing in production capabilities for other prodicts . For example, consumers several years ago began demanding a more spreadable form of butter, so Grassland experimented with various blends that would both retain a buttery flavor yet be soft enough to easily spread on a muffin or piece of toast. Consumers are also concerned about their health, she said, so mixtures were formulated to hold down fat content while retaining flavor.
“The blended product helps the customer have that butter flavor” but still eat a healthy product, Lee said.
Lee said Grassland is continuously trying new techniques to keep up with such market needs.
“It’s just keeping up with consumer trends,” she said.
Grassland has also invested heavily in processes to get more out of each pound of milk. While the buttermaking process basically uses the cream, there are other components that have market value. Grassland’s various milk powder products and permeates generate revenue from the parts of the raw product not needed for butter.
“We’re using every component of milk. There’s no waste. We’re able to sell it,” Lee said.
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