Help yourself to healthy dairy pride
by Kent Brick
Emily Goetz, granddaughter of Kathy and Blaine Goetz, enjoys some Bessy’s Best milk, processed from milk cows on the Goetz farm, a third-generation dairy operation, near Sterling. PHOTOS BY NDAREC/LIZA KESSEL
Their dreams, determination, rural values and an “udderly” huge amount of pride in their way of life led Blaine and Kathy Goetz to launch the Bessy’s Best line of dairy products in 2008.
The third-generation Goetz farm, just east of Sterling, has always been a dairy operation. In the early 2000s, Blaine and Kathy – who by that time had four children – saw the declining profitability of a conventional dairy operation.
The Goetzes knew they faced an income challenge, but also felt strongly they didn’t want their highly valued rural way of life to slip away.
“When we decided to start Bessy’s Best, it was about more than just the need for added income,” Kathy says. “We knew we were not making it with just the dairy farm, and we didn't want to be one of the statistics that has to go out of business.” She said running a bottling operation had long been Blaine’s dream, so they plunged into setting up their operation. They got the bottling system operational in 2008, and haven’t looked back.
To formulate a milk processing and bottling operation, the Goetzes had a commercial building constructed on their property. They scouted for and purchased previously used, good condition processing and bottling machinery. They involved the local electric inspector early and often, to stay assured this large new consumer of electricity was operating responsibly. The Goetz farm is served by Capital Electric Cooperative, Bismarck.
One of their early purchases was a separator – an extractor of cream from whole milk. Then came a key piece of learning, which they followed, making the use of the separator unnecessary.
“We learned whole milk contains the vitamins and nutrients people need,” Kathy says, adding that this led to the decision – one they have never regretted – to produce and bottle whole milk and whole milk products.
Not modifying what comes from the cow explains, in part, the origin of the name “Bessy’s Best” for their dairy products. Kathy says the “Bessy” name is identified with dairy cows – there’s always a “Bessy” in their current herd – and they truly believe they are making the best of what their cows produce to their customers.
She also indicates the operation receives regular inspections from state dairy and state health department officials.
Affordable pricing for their milk was an early concern, and remains so. Kathy says competing with lower priced milk in stores dictated in the beginning that they undertake an aggressive effort to conduct tastings and demonstrations in grocery stores. She personally conducted many of these.
Steadily building a customer base has enabled Bessy’s Best products to become an offering in area SuperValu supermarkets and SpartanNash supermarkets, including outlets in Bismarck-Mandan, Dickinson, Hazen, Beulah and other area communities. Many other North Dakota grocery retailers also make Bessy’s Best products available.
From their beginnings, with just white and chocolate milk, the Goetzes have developed lines of cheeses, yogurts, ice cream and parfaits. In addition, they now sell ready-to-bake pizzas and buns, and other baked goods (See on-farm store sidebar).
Operating the farm is Travis Goetz – one of Blaine’s and Kathy’s sons – with help from his family members. To keep laborers for milking, and bottling and processing work, the Goetzes use an international ag placement service and currently employee four international trainees, learning job skills, each here on a J-1 visa.
Of the many merchandising tools they considered when starting to sell bottled milk, affiliation with the Pride of Dakota branding effort was one of the first and “best” resources the Goetzes employed.
“From our very beginning, we started out with the Pride of Dakota program,” Kathy says. She learned a lesson about the program in her early years of doing sampling with grocery story shoppers. In the beginning, the Goetzes affixed a Pride of Dakota sticker on their milk jugs. On one sampling day, in the store dairy case, she noticed that a bottle on which the sticker had not been applied had been moved aside and one from a row of Bessy’s Best bottles with stickers had been selected.
“People want to buy North Dakota products,” Kathy says. “They really want to support us and are very good about doing so.”
Use Facebook to follow Bessy’s Best news and activities, at “My Bessy’s Best.”
Help yourself in Bessy’s Best store!
The big “moo-mentum” for the wide popularity of Bessy’s Best milk and dairy products started with the “help-yourself” idea. And, the concept is flourishing to this day.
As the Goetz family got the milk bottling operation firmly in place, neighbors and friends asked about getting some of the product.
“So I just put a little refrigerator in, with eight gallons of milk, and I put a coffee can for money on top, so people who wanted milk could come and get some,” Kathy Goetz says.
The help-yourself station is still a room in the milk processing facility, but it now features a double-door cooler, freezer and shelving holding a variety of other products for sale. Kathy indicates that the coffee can has been replaced by a secure deposit box. It is easy drive-up, walk-in access.
Products available at the on-farm Bessy’s Best store include: white and chocolate whole milk; nine flavors of aged and fresh cheese, curds and Mozzarella; drinkable and Greek yogurt; parfaits; cheese cups; honey mustard; plain and strawberry cream cheese; salsa; layered bean dip; homemade pizza; homemade buns; cinnamon rolls; ice cream; and baked goods, including bars and cookies.
Kathy indicates customers come at all hours, driving onto the Goetz farm, winding their way back to the building housing the retail outlet. She says promotion of the outlet is largely word-of-mouth and with Facebook. There have been virtually no instances of theft of their product; in fact, she says more sales occur out of this shop than through any grocery location they use for retailing.
“It’s open 24 hours a day, and it’s on the honor system,” Kathy says, adding: “It doesn’t pay for us to hire somebody to work in there, and so far, this is working.”
Kent Brick is editor of North Dakota Living. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.