MARQUETTE - No matter where you go in the Upper Peninsula, it's hard not to spot the Jilbert Dairy logo somewhere in a grocery store aisle, proudly posted outside an ice cream stand or in your own refrigerator.
As wide-spread as the company's dairy products are, the company's positive impact on the U.P. community is just as great.
"We're the U.P.'s dairy," said sales manager Gordon Mielke.
The Jilbert Dairy cow, as well as the logo, are a familiar sight around the Upper Peninsula, with the company’s economic and community impact reaching from one end of the region to the other. (Photo by Johanna Boyle)
Raw milk from 13 Upper Peninsula farms comes to Marquette and at the Jilbert Dairy processing facility is turned into skim, 1 percent, 2 percent and other milk products. (Photo by Johanna Boyle)
All Michigan milk, collected by Michigan farmers and processed by Michigan employees, is what Jilbert Dairy is all about. Here sales manager Gordon Mielke stands outside the Marquette processing facility and ice cream shop. (Photo by Johanna Boyle)
Started in 1937 at the farm of Russell and Marian Jilbert in Lake Linden, the plant first moved to a larger operation near Calumet in 1955 and then to its current location in Marquette in 1983, which allowed production to be closer to both customers and producers. Six years ago, the dairy was purchased by Dean Foods, but other than the ownership, not much has changed.
"My father was a butcher, but they started a little farm and it grew from there," said John Jilbert, one of the Jilbert children who grew up on that farm and former owner of the dairy. "All eight kids helped."
Today, the milk Jilbert Dairy processes comes from dairy farms located across the Upper Peninsula.
The milk is shipped to Jilbert's Marquette facility via tanker trucks. There it is pasteurized, homogenized (a process to keep the cream from separating), packaged and shipped to area stores and institutions, all usually within 36 hours of leaving the farm.
"From Menominee to Copper Harbor, from Drummond Island to Ironwood, that's the community," Mielke said, indicating a map of the Upper Peninsula on the wall next to his desk.
Although now owned by Dean Foods, the dairy's emphasis on supporting the local community hasn't changed.
Jilbert only processes milk from farms pledging not to use artificial growth hormones.
"I think people are becoming more aware right now," Mielke said of the awareness the public has as to the quality of food they consume. "Jilbert is quality."
Currently the dairy purchases 85,000 gallons of milk each week, with that number shooting up during the school year as the demand increases. That raw milk is turned into Vitamin A and D milk, skim, 1 percent, 2 percent, chocolate milk, half and half and heavy cream.
"Because we take the milk from the farms, those farms hire people to work on the farms," Mielke said.
Those employees and their families then spend money to live in local communities. Jilbert also directly employs 70 people throughout the Upper Peninsula. In addition, the company purchases goods and services from local businesses in the communities it serves.
Beyond the dairy's economic impact, Mielke said the company also makes it a priority to support the U.P. in other ways, whether that is sponsoring the dairy tent at the U.P. State Fair, making donations to youth sport teams or giving to area benefits.
"It's very important to us to be part of the community, to give back to the community," Mielke said.
Jilbert is a familiar face at area community events and races, especially now that chocolate milk is being promoted as an ideal refueling drink for athletes after a hard workout.
Just as the emphasis on community has remained throughout the years, the dairy's family roots also remain.
"John's still here," Mielke said of the continued involvement of former owner John Jilbert. "He's still a huge part of what goes on here. There's not a day goes by that I don't consult with John."
The focus for the dairy under Dean Foods has now become making sure that heritage continues.
"It was running good before. How can we make it so we're here for generations to come?" Mielke said. "Everybody here from the people in the lab to the people in the cooler to the drivers. How the trucks look. Everything screams quality and everybody cares about the product.
"That's what's cool about being here in the U.P."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Jilbert Dairy of Marquette. Businesses interested in being featured on the In Business page may call Larry Doyle at 228-2500, extension 258.