Mayfield marks 50 years serving Chattanooga
Market leader credits success to high quality; dairy sells to shoppers in 9 states
By Dave Flessner Business Editor
In 1954, Chattanooga was served by 26 dairies and
four ice cream companies.
But Thomas Mayfield was convinced the market still had a taste for another milk supplier. The founder of Mayfield Dairy quickly was proven right.
A half century after Mayfield Dairy began making milk deliveries in Chattanooga, Mayfield is the dominant milk brand in Chattanooga with an estimated 55 percent of the market’s milk sales and an even bigger share of store-bought ice cream.
Mayfield’s success in its first major branch expansion into Chattanooga proved a successful model for the Athens, Tenn.-based dairy to spread its sales across a ninestate region.
"Our company’s first major expansion was in Chattanooga, and this has proven to be a great market for us ever since," said Scott Mayfield Jr., the third-generation president of the company that bears his family’s name. "We’re not always the cheapest milk, but we do think we are the best."
Mayfield has survived and thrived as the biggest namebrand milk supplier in East Tennessee and metropolitan Atlanta and one of the biggest branded ice cream suppliers in the entire Southeast.
Mr. Mayfield credits much of the company’s success to the innovative technique for processing milk his uncle helped develop in 1955 in Athens. Mayfield was the first U.S. dairy — and today is the only major American dairy — to install an Aerovac machine in its milk processing plant. The device developed in New Zealand removes unwanted flavors by super heating milk and vacuuming away vapors and odors from the milk.
"The volatile flavor in some milk is in the vapor of heated milk, and by removing that we’re able to maintain a uniform flavor with our milk," Mr. Mayfield said.
The yellow jugs later introduced by Mayfield have helped keep its milk out of the sunlight and fresher longer, company officials said.
Earley Jackson, a route supervisor at Mayfield Dairy in Chattanooga, began his career with the company more than 40 years ago when he was 19 years old. As a route salesman for much of his career, Mr. Jackson said merchants and consumers usually would agree to pay the premium price of Mayfield over other types of milk once they tasted the brand.
"Our challenge was to get people to try Mayfield," he recalled. "Once they did, our sales did very well. It’s been great to work for a company you know has the best product."
When he began with Mayfield, the company operated out of a small warehouse on Dodds Avenue and had 16 milk trucks and three ice cream trucks. To day, Mayfield operates 58 milk trucks and 16 ice cream trucks from the plant built in 1965 on Polymer Drive.
Mr. Jackson and the other 120 full- and part-time employees at Mayfield’s Chattanooga distribution center were treated to a luncheon last week to mark the company’s 50th anniversary in Chattanooga. Mr. Mayfield personally cooked steaks for each of the delivery workers as they returned from their routes.
"This is a special occasion in a special city for us," Mr. Mayfield said as the meat sizzled Wednesday.
David Cooper, a 30-year Mayfield employee who now manages the Chattanooga center, said the local operation grew quickly after Mayfield was able to enter the Georgia market.
"We’ve made a lot of changes through the years to become more efficient," he said. "But the Mayfield brand and consistency has always been there."
Mayfield entered the Atlanta market in 1977 through the purchase of Aristocrat Ice Cream Co. By 1980, Mayfield was Atlanta’s top selling ice cream brand.
Mayfield opened its second milk processing center in 1997 in Brazelton, Ga., to expand its milk deliveries into Atlanta. The new center came seven years after the Mayfield family sold to Dean Foods Co.
Mr. Mayfield explained that the sale was prompted, in part, by his family’s desire to expand the business into Atlanta but a reluctance to spend what ultimately cost $20 million to build a second milk processing plant to supplement the main Athens facility.
"Our company sales, profits and staff have probably tripled since we sold to Dean Foods," Mr. Mayfield said. "We’ve been able to do a lot more, so I clearly think that was the right move."
Since 1990, Mayfield has expanded its product lines with lowfat frozen yogurt, snow cream frozen deserts and a variety of new ice cream flavors, including the No. 1 brand of Moose Tracks ice cream in the country.
E-mail Dave Flessner at email@example.com
This story was published Sunday, October 24, 2004