To stay in business for 100 years, Mayfield Dairy Farms has had to innovate.That's a trait the Athens, Tenn., company launched in 1910 still practices, its chief says.
"We've got innovative stuff in the pipeline," said Scottie Mayfield, president of the company and the third generation of the family involved in the enterprise.
For example, the company that distinguished itself with the trademark yellow milk jug plans in late summer to introduce some new product packaging that officials believe will grab customers, Mr. Mayfield said.
Purchased by Dallas-based dairy giant Dean Foods Co. in 1990, Mayfield also is a key part of its parent's efforts to improve the overall business, he said.
"It's been working on trying to get systems and a lot of things they do standardized," Mr. Mayfield said. "Because of their respect for our division, we've been a part of many of the teams if not all trying to standardize some things."
John Riddell, who heads the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said companies which stay in business and maintain the brand as long as Mayfield have got to be on the leading edge or they get passed by.
"The only way you stay out front is to constantly listen to your customer," he said. "If you stay in tune with that, you'll stay in business a long, long time."
Mr. Mayfield said it was his grandfather, T.B. Mayfield, who in 1910 decided to buy 45 Jersey cows and deliver milk in Athens. He said his grandfather kept one eye trained on quality and the other on new ideas.
In 1924, the elder Mayfield financed construction of a modern milk plant after having drawn from particular success in the ice cream business. Mr. Mayfield said the facility was the first pasteurized plant between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Mr. Mayfield said that with his grandfather's death in 1937, sons Thomas B. Mayfield III and C. Scott Mayfield Sr. took over operations of the dairy.
Faced with how to grow the business, his Uncle Tom went to the International Dairy Equipment Show to buy updated ice cream equipment to expand that segment, which then accounted for 80 percent of sales.
But, Mr. Mayfield said, his uncle learned that every large ice cream company planned to invest more, so the businessmen decided in 1948 to build a new milk plant that would become the most modern in the Southeast.
In 1955, Mayfield discovered and purchased a little-known piece of equipment, now called the Aro-Vac Vacuum System, which would set the business apart, he said.
"Mayfield was the first dairy in the country, and maybe the only dairy today, to use this process to remove all unwanted flavors and odors from milk," the company president said, which helps to improve consistency of flavor. "We continue to upgrade."
Mr. Mayfield said the company is geographically growing its ice cream business. A sister Dean company in Cincinnati has converted its brand to Mayfield and sales are higher there, the official said.
"I think that will continue to happen through the Dean footprint," he said.
Later this summer, Mr. Mayfield said the business plans to unveil new packaging which he believes will catch-on with consumers.
Meanwhile, Mayfield's milk and ice cream business has been "pretty steady" for the last three or four years, he said. Businesswise, he said, the last few years have been challenging, citing the economy and fuel prices.
"We saw a reduction in milk sales throughout the U.S.," Mr. Mayfield said.
Conversely, ice cream sales were solid last year, he said.
"People are eating at home," Mr. Mayfield said, adding ice cream is an affordable dessert.
Mr. Riddell said it's uncommon for companies to last 100 years, and it's a compliment to the brand's longevity.
"There are too many things working against you," he said.