CDR Success Story: Smári Organics
I’d like to commend the staff at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research in general, and in particular, Mike Molitor, KJ Burrington and their team for helping us launch our new Organic Icelandic Yogurt enterprise in the State of Wisconsin.
Our first pilot plant scale run was at the CDR Process lab located within Babcock Hall on the UW-Madison Campus. Though Mike Molitor doesn’t (yet) have the type of European equipment in his lab that we would ultimately purchase, he does have specialized, small-scale UF equipment — the spiral membrane type — and he has a boatload of experience and he’s a superb operator and craftsman.
Mike has been amazingly helpful, even pivotal to our successful startup manufacturing Organic Icelandic yogurt. It’s a yogurt requiring extensive straining and approximately four cups of milk to yield one cup of the finished yogurt. Our Pure (what others call plain) delivers 20 grams of protein and zero grams of fat in a 6-ounce serving. What we’re doing is technically difficult by any standard. We feel that neither centrifugal separators nor spiral ultrafiltration work for our product requirements. Instead we imported equipment from Europe to make our unique style of concentrated yogurt. We are the first company to use this method to manufacture strained yogurt in the United States.
Upon my request, Mike Molitor came to our plant (with his very helpful sidekick Becky Kalscheuer) and he went to work evaluating our situation. In one half days’ time, he made superb recommendations across the board on how to re-engineer our filtration system — from pipe sizing and placement, to pressure gauge locations, to the critical need for the proper cross flow. On the most critical issue, the need for a proper concentrate flow meter, he said, “you need a mag flow meter there.” Then he went back to his lab, chose the ideal size mag flow meter and wrote me saying that WCDR would loan it to us. Next he delivered it to the Westby maintenance supervisor, literally on Christmas Day so it could be installed and ready for use in time for a critical run. The mag flow along with other newly realized details allowed us to make the first truly successful production runs that last week of December. This was done just in time to meet our first orders.
Since sales started in January, we’ve been converting an average of 2000 gallons of Wisconsin organic milk into our strained yogurt per week. More recently, we have increased the production run times and the volumes produced each week. We use the milk from Wisconsin organic dairy cows and thus rely on and truly appreciate the Wisconsin dairy farmers who raise and milk them. We also utilize Wisconsin truckers. We bought several positive pumps built in Wisconsin and had them installed to transfer product through an extensive network of stainless steel pipe installed by skilled welders also from Wisconsin. We employ Wisconsin based Westby Cooperative Creamery to make the product. Westby devoted an entire room in their plant to install the equipment that we own there.
We’ve been working to make this company a reality for two years. We have a real business now. We sold more than $40K in our first month, which is more than we anticipated. We expect to do close to $2 million during this first year of sales. The Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research has been a critical asset to our successful product launch. Had they not been available at those critical moments, we’d likely be out of business by now. I’ve launched enough businesses, succeeded in enough businesses, and failed in enough of them, to say that with confidence.
I’d like to thank the folks at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Dairy Management Inc., who are funding CDR. I hope someday soon to join you as a donor, assuming we can survive, thrive, and turn a profit. I read all the time about how America (and its economy) is broken and in decline. From an outsider’s perspective, there’s nothing broken about Wisconsin’s dairy industry and CDR in Madison. This letter documents the shining examples of how public-private partnerships work to create good paying jobs, great products, real companies, and a vibrant economy.
Co-Founder and CFO-COO