ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. — Chuck Turner knows what it takes to make a successful drink.
“If it doesn’t taste good, you’re going to do something else,” said Turner, of Turner Dairy Farms in Pittsburgh.
No wonder, then, that Turner is rolling out a new product featuring two of America’s favorite flavors — milk and coffee.
The milk processor got $23,500 from Pennsylvania’s Dairy Investment Program to develop the cold-brewed coffee-milk combo drink.
Turner described his experience creating innovative dairy products during Wednesday’s dairy industry breakfast at Ag Progress Days.
The grant program was created in 2018 to help dairy farms and processors launch new products and lines that could help them overcome low milk prices.
Earlier this year, the state awarded its first round of $5 million to almost 30 projects. A second shot of $5 million was included in the PA Farm Bill.
“It is a good reminder that ideas are still alive. There’s a lot of hope, a lot of opportunity,” Ag Secretary Russell Redding said.
To head off a consumer objection, Turner’s coffee drink will be made with lactose-free milk.
Conveniently, because of the way it’s digested, lactose-free milk also tastes sweeter than regular milk. Turner cut 10 grams of sugar from the recipe that way.
Turner has a history of developing specialty milk drinks, especially limited-time milks in fun flavors — chocolate peanut butter, cookies and cream, chocolate banana, pumpkin spice eggnog, and — coming soon — s’mores.
The offerings come in half gallons and pints and run for about a month.
Orange cream milk even runs in schools twice a year. The milk was formulated to meet the School Lunch Program’s fat-free criteria.
Many of the flavored milks didn’t taste good in fat-free formulations, but with schools now able to serve 1% milk, the door is open to more flavored products, Turner said.
While the short-run milks are profitable, the bigger goal is to draw consumers’ attention to dairy products generally.
Even if consumers don’t buy the specialty drink, sales of the company’s other products go up when a limited-run product is on the shelves.
“That’s what we find exciting,” Turner said.
The company is also developing a fresh lactose-free milk.
The coffee-milk blend will be sold in a 14-ounce bottle with a full wrap label.
Milk labels and packaging are often boring, so to stand out, Turner has worked with St. Joseph’s University’s food marketing program and a designer who had previously developed packaging for craft beer.
Turner is connected to two other dairy grant recipients.
One is a $365,000 grant to Titusville Dairy Products Corp. to build a new cheese room.
Turner owns the company in partnership with two other processors.
The new room won’t itself add to the bottom line, but it will free up space in the 80-year-old factory to automate the packaging line, which will increase revenue, Turner said.
Turner is also excited about Pleasant Lane Farms’ plan to start making artisanal cheese.
The Latrobe dairy farm, which has shipped milk to Turner for decades, got a $287,000 grant.
On its new website, Turner plans to include a page of links to side businesses run by their contract dairy farmers.
Kelley Huff also wants to highlight local farmers when marketing her company’s infant formula.
Simpler Way Nutritionals in Reading received a $390,000 grant for research, development and marketing for its infant formula made with Pennsylvania milk.
The company’s first private-label customer will hit the shelves in September, and others will be close behind.
Huff wants to emphasize her Pennsylvania sourcing to appeal to the company’s target consumers — parents of young children.
“They want to see from start to finish, farm to table,” she said.
Though the products will bear the buyer’s private label branding, they will also have a logo that will direct consumers to Simpler Way’s website to learn about dairy farming.
Huff also plans to market Pennsylvania dairy on the world stage.
The company is waiting on China to approve its product. A hospital group in South Korea is another customer.
Huff plans for exports to make up half of the company’s sales.
The next round of grant funding is expected to open later this year.