Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) has been making ice cream since the mid 20th century, its legacy of rich, creamy flavors often a point of pride for consumers in the Pacific Northwest.
But this is far from a regional affair – Tillamook Ice Cream sales have grown by around 60% in the eastern US in the past year alone, a demand so significant it prompted the co-operative’s leadership to seek a location to open a second plant dedicated to ice cream production. So far, the co-operative has been producing ice cream at its Tillamook, Oregon factory, and also uses contract manufacturers to meet demand from beyond the Northwest.
Earlier this month, the co-op revealed it had purchased the former Prairie Farms ice cream facility in Decatur, Illinois, with a goal of making it fully operational by Q4 2024.
“In the last year, Tillamook ice cream sales grew nearly 60% in the eastern US, and with so much demand in that part of the country, it makes sense for us to manufacture some of our products geographically closer to the customers who will be purchasing them,” said Mike Bever, executive vice-president of operations at TCCA. “TCCA will spend the next 18 to 24 months updating the plant to bring it up to TCCA's manufacturing quality standards, with a goal of October 2024 for the first full ice cream production run. Our investments will include structural updates, aesthetic improvements, food safety standard improvements, employee welfare enhancements and extensive line upgrades.”
According to Harry Davis & Company - the estate firm which sold the facility to TCCA – the plant can produce more than 14 million gallons of ice cream yearly at peak. By offering immediate entry to the market, alongside the local milkshed and a Midwest location, the plant had a buyer lined-up in less than 60 days since the property listing went live.
The Decatur-based factory is an important keystone to the local economy, too. According to Lenny Davis, CEO of Harry Davis & Company, ‘it was apparent to us there was a significant value and opportunity in finding a processor to restart production’. “Sales of ice cream spiked nationwide throughout the pandemic, making it a challenging time for companies looking to add capacity. Tillamook is one of the country’s fastest-growing ice cream brands, so this acquisition makes sense.”
Tillmoook is planning to employ around 45 staff at the plant, up from 35 during Prairie Farms’ era. Bever said: “TCCA will spend the next 18 to 24 months updating the plant to bring it up to TCCA's manufacturing quality standards, with a goal of October 2024 for the first full ice cream production run. Our investments will include structural updates, aesthetic improvements, food safety standard improvements, employee welfare enhancements and extensive line upgrades.”
‘Consumers care about where their food comes from’
In an ice cream market as saturated as the US one, we asked how has a farmer-owned co-op’s product managed to stand out? According to Bever, it’s the consumers backing a family-owned business that has a role here. “Consumers care about where their food comes from, and as a co-op, we put our people, our animals, and the environment first in everything that we do,” he said.
“Our farmer-owners believe in being good stewards of cows and farms, of people and products, of our communities and the environment. We believe that good stewardship at the heart and soul of our organization, is very much a key part of what is growing the national demand for our products.”
According to Bever, Tillamook Ice Cream is the fastest-growing family-size (48oz) ice cream brand in the US, making it paramount to bolster the co-op’s production output. “This new manufacturing facility in Illinois is another step in our continued national expansion plans toward bringing Tillamook to more fans around the country,” he explained. “We will continue to operate our production facilities in both Tillamook and Boardman and have, in fact, significantly grown our team in Oregon recent years.”
A hybrid approach
Asked about the co-op’s plans for its existing facilities in Tillamook and Boardman, Bever said TCCA has increased ice cream capacity by 38 and cheese capacity by 25% through internal productivity processes. “Our intention is to use our Oregon facilities to their maximum potential,” he added.
“We are constantly evaluating our manufacturing capacity to keep up with the growth of our brand. Given the rapid growth in demand for Tillamook Ice Cream, at this time we will continue to produce Tillamook Ice cream through a mix of owned operations and working with great co-manufacturing partners who align with our values.”
The co-operative will also continue to use contract manufacturers to meet demand as needed. “We see this hybrid approach – working with owned facilities and co-manufacturing partners – as a competitive advantage that will continue to support our high growth model into the future,” Bever stated.
Since Tillamook is big on regional flavors, we asked Bever what are some of the trends that the co-op is aiming to tap into. What is it that the modern consumer want from a tub of dairy ice cream? “Nostalgia is a big part of the ice cream experience for consumers,” Bever said. “They enjoy food that reminds them of their childhood favorites and they also want to bring that to their families.
“We’re also seeing a focus on premium ingredients and re-centering the ice cream experience on indulgence. As a result, consumers are seeking high quality products that deliver classic flavors without compromising on the quality of the ingredients.”
Meanwhile, the co-op’s latest release is a Neapolitan ice cream, a classic flavor that Tillamook has added a little twist to. “We wanted to create the best Neapolitan you've ever had with a perfect mix of our classic Old-Fashioned Vanilla, our top-selling Oregon Strawberry and a creamy chocolate with rich chocolate ripple,” Bever concluded.