When fourth-generation dairy farmer Rob Graves came back to the family farm at 23 years old over two and a half decades ago he brought an entrepreneurial spirit back to delivery of milk straight to homes. Now, Morning Fresh Dairy outside Bellvue, Colo. is as large as it has ever been and continues growing thanks to direct marketing of finished dairy products.
“We brought back the glass bottles which really resonated in the 1990s and 2000s for recyclability and being local,” Graves says. In stores the glass helped differentiate the milk from standard plastic and cardboard packaging. It also helped build consumer awareness for the Morning Fresh brand along the Front Range running south to Denver. Then five years ago, a new element was added to the dairy when a former Australian, Koel Thomae, proposed the idea of getting into the yogurt business to Graves and his wife Lori. Graves admits that he “wasn’t a yogurt fan,” but after trying a unique recipe originating in Australia with a passion fruit purée he was sold. A partnership was formed creating Noosa Finest Yoghurt and orders started going out on New Year’s Eve 2009.
“From that beginning retailers just kept calling and calling,” Graves says. Noosa hit the grocery aisle at a time when Greek yogurt had just begun making its way to many American consumers. It was the perfect timing for an Australian yogurt, too. Graves relates Chobani taught processors yogurt didn’t have to be what Dannon and Yoplait were selling. “Everyone realized there are other kinds of yogurt and Chobani led the way.” The Noosa Yoghurt plant and Morning Fresh’s bottling are housed on the farm just a few yards from the parlor. Approximately 8,000 gallons of milk goes direct from the parlor to the plant, with 6,000 gallons going towards bottling. The remaining milk is used for yogurt. High demand for the nationally distributed Noosa products means some milk has been brought in from neighboring dairies that meet the same quality standards.
“I can’t grow fast enough, but we’ve got some good neighbors who have quality milk,” Graves says. The milk is sourced through Dairy Farmers of America, who has helped ensure the base ingredient – milk – is always the same. “By always having a consistent milk supply we can make consistent yogurt.” Noosa can be found in every state and even in parts of Mexico. Some of the retail carriers include Target, Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Publix and Wakefern. “I’m adding value to that commodity and making a special product. We’re putting a name on it,” Graves says of marketing the yogurt and bottled milk.
By: Wyatt Bechtel