It’s been 20 years since Hartzler Family Dairy launched a new product. The company is known throughout the region largely for its milk sold in distinct glass bottles at select retailers. Some 80 percent of the company’s business is wholesale products that had, until recently, consisted of milk, butter and ice cream, the latter of which is produced mostly for its ice cream shop in Wooster.
This year, the company launched a non-GMO Project-verified string cheese, which Hartzler President Paul Sommers says is the first of its kind in the U.S.
“We’re currently the only dairy in the state of Ohio that’s non-GMO Project verified. Non-GMO Project, if you do some research on them, they are one of the most recognizable and trusted brands in the natural food world,” Sommers says. He adds, however, “We do not have to change anything about any way that we do things to get that label on our products.”
Going to market
Hartzler ties its name to the organic farming concept. The home page of its website begins with the story, “In 1964, when Harold Hartzler made the decision to stop using chemical pesticides and herbicides on his farm, it was not a marketing decision. He did it because he had witnessed the effect of chemical run-off on a neighboring farm after a storm. It was then that Harold decided to farm only ‘as Nature Intended.’”
It’s an organic dairy that’s not certified organic, as Sommers puts it. The non-GMO labeling it recently acquired is largely to satisfy retailers that would like to see third-party verification on products. Hartzler consumers, he says, already know what Hartzler is all about.
“We know that, for some of our customers, they could care less, because they know the way the way we do things. They know that we’re a quality product and it is good,” Sommers says.
Launching a string cheese product made sense because Hartzler knows that many of its customers already purchase organic string cheese from other producers. The opportunity became a reality when it found a manufacturing partner, Miceli Dairy Products Co. based in Cleveland, that can make that product. That meant Hartzler wouldn’t need to ship milk across the country.
The company also expects to hit the market with an aggressive price point that will help broaden its appeal to customers who may not purchase Hartzler milk, but would buy its string cheese simply because it’s non-GMO Project verified.
A fresh look
The company is in the process of rebranding. It brought in a marketer to help redesign all of its packaging.
“That has been a pretty involved process because we have a lot of our brand name that’s out there with our current or soon-to-be old branding,” Sommers says.
Its updated branding is classic and simple — a reflection of its unadulterated products that also highlights their premium appeal.
Hartzler is looking to be more deliberate in other aspects of its marketing. It wants to hone in on millennial moms, a segment of its broad consumer base it believes are the decision-makers for their families, especially when it comes to what goes into the refrigerator.
It’s also a way to hitch a ride on the local and natural organic food movement that continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Grocery chains predicated on whole and organic foods are increasingly establishing locations in Ohio, coming in at a very competitive price point and growing.
“Millennials are driving that change,” he says. “They want to know where their food comes from; they don’t trust industrial agriculture — they don’t trust big Ag. A lot of them are even skeptical of big organic companies.”
Securing its future
The company is working to ensure it remains relevant and stands out from an increasingly competitive market, doing more to make its presence known in the region.
“We have a diverse network of small, independent, mom-and-pop grocery stores, and then we also have large, national corporate chains. But what we’ve noticed is, as far as sales growth, that things leveled off. And so that’s where I come in,” Sommers says.
He is pushing for a more aggressive sales approach — getting out on the road, going to grocery stores, meeting with corporate buyers and driving sales. That’s a change from its previous approach, which was to rely on the Hartzler brand as a draw for sales. But there’s no guarantee that will continue, so the company is doing more to ensure it remains viable for the long term.
“We are this little dairy in Wooster, Ohio, that’s just trying to do things differently, and I think doing a really good job of it,” Sommers says. “But we do have our work cut out for us to really gain market share. We’ve got to hustle.”
How to reach: Hartzler Family Dairy: (330) 345-8190 or www.hartzlerfamilydairy.com