Being There: Milking Time
Guida’s Dairy in New Britain has been providing milk from Connecticut cows for 125 years.
”’CONNECTICUT MILK FOR CONNECTICUT PEOPLE’ is what we like to say around here,” says Mike Guida, president and CEO of Guida’s Dairy.
Considering that Guida’s processes over 1 million gallons of milk a week—almost 85 percent of which comes directly from Connecticut dairy farms—and distributes most of it to retail outlets within 75 miles of the centrally located plant, it’s also a fairly accurate statement. Hey, it’s even what my kids pour onto their cereal (really!).
“My wife hates when we go to other people’s houses because I’ll go and open the fridge to see if they have our milk in there,” laughs Guida, who along with his brothers and cousins are the second generation of the family to run the operation. Mike’s dad, Al, started off in 1929 by delivering milk out of his pickup truck; he was soon joined by his brother, Frank, and in 1946 they bought the Seibert Dairy on Park Street in New Britain. Sixty-five years later and the Guida-Seibert Dairy (the official name) is the largest family-owned independent dairy in the Northeast, earning $130 million in annual sales and doing business in five states. It employs 270 full time and produces 240 different items, including various sizes of their ever-popular chocolate milk. Guida’s also supplies processed milk and cream for other manufacturers, who use it in everything from YoCrunch yogurt to Farmer’s Cow ice cream.
Guida’s receives raw milk from dairy farms seven days a week, “because cows make it seven days a week,” says Guida. On any given day, about 100 different tanker trucks deliver it, usually starting around midnight.
When raw milk arrives, a sample of each batch is immediately taken and tested; if it’s good, it’s sent to the plant’s third floor to begin processing—starting at the top of the plant and moving down through the facility via gravity reduces the amount of pumping the milk needs, which keeps it from getting too buttery.
The system here is entirely automated, with seemingly miles of shiny stainless steel pipes, storage tanks and conveyor belts. It starts in a centrifuge, where cream is separated from skim milk. The cream is taken and used for products such as ice cream mix, butter or half-and-half, while the milk is standardized—different cows make different types of milk depending on diet and weather conditions, so it’s adjusted as necessary for different formulas (skim, 1 percent, 2 percent, whole, etc.). From there, the milk is pasteurized to eliminate bacteria by being heated to 170˚ F for 15 seconds and then quick-cooled back down to 34˚, which it remains at while at the dairy. Once pasteurized, the milk is homogenized, a process by which it’s forced through tiny valves that actually slice off molecules so it stays consistent throughout, i.e., it doesn’t settle and need to be shaken before drinking.
Packaging then begins around 2 a.m. as the milk is pumped into cartons and plastic containers—all specially made on site—of various volumes, from 4-ounce quarter-pint cartons (popular in schools) to gallon jugs (regularly seen in my fridge at home) to commercial-use five-gallon poly bags. After containers are filled, they are packed into crates and onto pallets, which are then loaded on trucks for distribution. Trucks pull away from loading docks around 4 or 5 a.m. and head to schools, hospitals, convenience stores and, of course, supermarkets. Guida’s also services specialty sites like the submarine base in Groton and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, which means its milk literally travels around the globe.
After the milk trucks leave New Britain, the primary focus shifts to the production, packaging and shipping of other products, such as creamers, butter, cottage cheese and orange juice, depending on demand. Then, from about 6 p.m. to midnight, the entire facility is cleaned—every pipe, valve and tank—after which the raw milk starts arriving again.
In the company’s history, Mike Guida can recall only “two or three times” that they weren’t able to deliver milk, each occasion due to severe snowstorms. He credits the dedication of his employees, some of whom are second- and third-generation workers, and many of whom have been with the company for more than 25 years.
Also part of Guida’s family is Supercow, the “bovine divine” that appears on Guida’s products. When first approached in 1995 about having a mascot, Guida admits that “I’d never thought it’d fly, pardon the expression, but it has.” A life-sized replica is perched heroically above the entrance to the plant, encouraging kids to “keep fighting for good nutrition.”
The current plant has expanded beyond the original 1886 Seibert dairy building, including the recent completion of a $4 million, 22,000-square-foot addition. This year marks the 125th year that milk has been produced at this location by Guida-Seibert.
“There is no Mr. Hood, but there is a Mr. Guida,” says Guida, who after five-plus decades is still at the plant seven days a week to make sure all is well. “This dairy is the only thing I’ve ever done. My name is on every carton, and I really care about that.”
For more info, visit supercow.com.