Kentucky’s Expanding Markets

Article By: Joanie Stiers, farmflavor.com

The University of Kentucky has committed to offering its students Udderly Kentucky milk, which is produced and processed by the state’s dairy farmers.

The University of Kentucky has committed to offering its students Udderly Kentucky milk, which is produced and processed by the state’s dairy farmers.

Buying local is getting easier in Kentucky. The University of Kentucky and Aramark established a long-term partnership that includes use of Udderly Kentucky milk on campus. Shortly after, Kroger announced it will feature a prominent retail display of more than 125 Kentucky Proud products in 88 of its Kentucky stores.

“When you look at the volume of business at any Kroger in Kentucky, it is significant,” says Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer. 

“For Kroger to make this large of a commitment and give you that kind of floor space, I can’t wait to see the economic impact number. It may be the single largest transaction in the history of Kentucky Proud.”

Committed To Kentucky

Popcorn grower Brian Hornback participates in the 100 percent Kentucky Proud Popcorn program.

Popcorn grower Brian Hornback participates in the 100 percent Kentucky Proud Popcorn program.

Whether high-volume salsa producers or small mom-and-pop soap makers, Kroger has committed to bring the best of Kentucky Proud to its stores. More than 40 vendors will furnish 125-plus products on Kroger shelves. The major retailer will also work with small businesses that can serve only a fraction of Kroger’s stores.

“Supporting local products has grown increasingly important to our customers, so we are simply responding to this demand,” says Tim McGurk, public affairs manager for Kroger. “We believe this is the right move for our customers and the local suppliers.”

The Kroger partnership expands upon the retailer’s commitment to Kentucky meats, fruits and vegetables. In 2013, Kroger purchased more than 250,000 cases of produce from Kentucky growers and more than 35 million pounds of meat from Kentucky processing plants, says Roger Snell, farm-to-retail liaison for Kentucky Proud.

Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky and Aramark partnership represents a 15-year, $245 million contract, the university announced. The partnership includes an immediate decrease in student meal plan prices, more than $70 million in facilities investments, and an increased commitment to locally sourced food, including Kentucky Proud and Udderly Kentucky products.

More than 30,000 students will gain ready access to Kentucky-produced and -processed milk and other local products at UK in 2015, says Eunice Schlappi, dairy marketing specialist in charge of the Udderly Kentucky branded milk program for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

100% Kentucky Proud Popcorn growers, the Hornbacks.

100% Kentucky Proud Popcorn growers, the Hornbacks.

“It is huge because it is going to go campus wide,” she says. “Udderly Kentucky is all about being able to provide a locally produced, healthy supply of milk and being able to help with the sustainability of dairy farms in our state.”

As of early 2015, Udderly Kentucky milk will be served and used in cooking, culinary programs and commissaries, including cafeterias at the university, Schlappi says.

Third-generation dairy farmer Dante Carpenter appreciates the news. His family has milked cows since 1947 in south-central Kentucky, and today, he earns a small premium for milk sold through the Udderly Kentucky program of his Prairie Farms cooperative.

“Being a land-grant university, the University of Kentucky using Kentucky products is only natural,” Carpenter says. “You feel part of it when you have a product going into that university and serving as many students as it does.”

He feels this UK-Aramark partnership will give Udderly Kentucky and the program’s almost 90 Kentucky dairy farm families a boost.

“It could start a new opportunity for a lot of us in the dairy business,” he says.

Popcorn Program

100 percent Kentucky Proud Popcorn, a new branded program similar to Udderly Kentucky, launched in November 2014. It promises Kentucky-grown popcorn to consumers. Popcorn manufacturer Preferred Popcorn pays a premium to Kentucky farmers for their popcorn and with it creates three flavors of microwave popcorn. Each box features photos and profiles of the farm families who grew the popcorn.