Moo-ving Forward: Cumberland Dairy Continues Legacy with Dairy Farmers of America

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VINELAND, N.J. — It may sound odd, but a late-night car accident in the early 1930s helped spur one of the most iconic companies in Cumberland County history.

And it’s a company that has just turned a new and exciting corner for its 180 employees and the family that has owned and operated it for the past 85 years. 

Carmine Catalana, II, a recently married man in the early ’30s, whose family had immigrated to Vineland the generation prior, was a lamp worker at the Kimble Glass Factory in Vineland. His brother-in-law had a milk route in Vineland and because during the Depression many breadwinners needed to work more than one job just to survive, Catalana picked up a second job. 

He began delivering milk to homes in the Bridgeton area from a farm he found in nearby Salem County, just as something he could do on the side on his own in the early-morning hours before work.  

This is a very exciting time for the entire Cumberland Dairy family and we look forward to the next chapter with DFA.

“So, the story goes that he put two cases of milk, about 24 quarts, in the back of his 1926 Chrysler, which was his family car,” says Catalana. “And he went out in the neighborhood, which was in South Bridgeton at the time. Actually, the house and the little building is still there. ... And he would go deliver to his neighbors and relatives. 

By the 1940s, Catalana's grandfather picked up more work, as he branched out delivering to Vineland. 

Catalana’s grandfather would awake each morning, do his milk deliveries, go to work at Kimble's, go home, sleep and the next day he'd repeat the whole thing, according to his grandson. 

PICTURED: President of Cumberland Dairy, Carmine Catalana, IV, (center)  and his bothers Frank (left) and Dave (right) joined their employees for an event to recognize the company’s 85th anniversary in Bridgeton last week where they also celebrated an agreement with Dairy Farmers of America for a future of growth and expansion.  PHOTO: CRAIG TERRY\\

Cumberland Dairy 2017 SNJ “Back then, a dairy could have been a farm, it could have been a plant, it could have been just a guy with a truck,” says Carmine Catalana, IV, president of Bridgeton-based Cumberland Dairy, which made a big announcement last week with regard to its future and acquisition by the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a national dairy cooperative owned by family farmers.  

“So, he had a truck in Vineland, and he went around and delivered milk to the front stoops of everybody’s houses,” says Catalana.

“Because back then, in a milk bottle, the milk lasted a day or two, so having it in a store or in a restaurant or something like that—it had a really short shelf life.”

Thus, his grandfather was a busy guy.

“And he was part of the Italian-American community around 7th and Cherry Street, that’s where his family emigrated to from Italy," says Catalana.

As Catalana explains it, his grandmother more than encouraged her husband to pick one job or the other after his grandfather fell asleep one early morning delivering milk — while at the wheel.

"One night, sometime between October of 1932 and October of 1933 he was coming home from work, and he fell asleep and he hit a telephone pole. Fortunately, he was OK.”

Catalana's grandfather had wrecked the Chrysler, however, at the same time, Cumberland Dairy was born.  

“My grandmother was a strong woman and she said, ‘Charlie, you gotta pick one job or the other!’ And for some strange reason, in the middle of the Depression, he decided to go into business with his 7th-grade education—not knowing anything about milk or cows or anything. And he builds this little garage behind the house, and puts in a milk plant. That was October 1933, when he formed our company—when he formed Cumberland Dairy.”

He was coming home from work, and he fell asleep and he hit a telephone pole. Fortunately, he was OK.

Fast forward 80-some years and Catalana and his brothers and other family members who currently run the company are approached by the 13,000-member strong DFA about acquiring Cumberland Dairy. The DFA not only liked the location, but was impressed also by the way the company was run. 

For a couple years Catalana, who will turn 59 this year, thought about the offer before deciding what to do. 

“You never can say with certainty because many things can happen, but we believe that this transaction helps to set a direction with our company so that many things will remain the same,” he says. 

“The name is the same, and so is the direction that we’re trying to take it. We just [now] have the backing of the Dairy Farmers. … There are 8,000 Dairy Farmers out there, 8,000 Dairy Farms, all hard-working family farms around the country.”

DFA Cumberland Dairy

PICTURED: The employees of Bridgeton-based Cumberland Dairy gathered with the founding Catalana family to celebrate the company’s 85 years in the dairy products industry and the announcement about the its future with DFA.  

Last week, before the announcement that the Catalana’s family-owned company had been acquired by Dairy Farmers of America had been made public, the family took measures to properly inform and celebrate the decision privately with the company’s employees.

While the local processor of ultra-pasteurized dairy products—including fluid milk, cream, and ice cream mix—experienced tremendous growth during the 1970s and 1980s under the leadership of Carmine Catalana, III, today third-generation principals Carmine IV, Frank, and David Catalana lead Cumberland Dairy.

Carmine Catalana’s adult children Nick, and Rachel, are now also involved in the company, with the latter heading up the company’s Innovation Foods division. 

“For more than 85 years, Cumberland Dairy has been intently focused on a mission to deliver high-quality products and dedicated service to our loyal customers,” Catalana told his employees. “A future with Dairy Farmers of America allows us to continue to both maintain our strong company values and accelerate our opportunities for growth and expansion.”

Catalana says he and his brothers made the decision together, “with a vision of a stronger, sharper Cumberland Dairy built for long-term success. It was not an easy decision nor was it one that we were forced to make. It was one we measured with calculated thought and careful consideration for our most treasured assets—our employees, our loyal customers, and our suppliers.”

He adds: “We have the privilege of serving some of the most iconic food and beverage brands in the world and we are elated to continue our work alongside the 13,000 [individual] members of Dairy Farmers of America. This is a very exciting time for the entire Cumberland Dairy family and we look forward to the next chapter with DFA.”

Cumberland Dairy employs 180 people at its four facilities in Bridgeton and Rosenhayn. Its customers include some of the nation’s top quick-service restaurants, convenience and grocery chains, wholesale food distributors, fine-casual (restaurants), and dessert concepts. 

While Cumberland Dairy will become a subsidiary of DFA, Catalana says that all employees will retain their positions and that it will continue to function as an independent operation still under the Cumberland Dairy name.

“This is not something we had to do,” adds Catalana. “The years 2016 and 2017 were some of the best years we’ve had in a while, and I’ve got a next generation in the business, and other family members could come later.”

The business move, says Catalana, was essentially about trying to assure the future of the business for many decades to come. 

“[The DFA] wanted somebody in our space and they said, ‘Look, if you guys aren’t interested in staying, we’re not interested in buying, because we need somebody to run it. And we don’t want to move it, and we don’t have other plants like it.’ Which is why they came to us, and had we pursued it with other companies that we compete with today, maybe the results would have been different. And we didn’t do that, we didn’t explore that much, but let’s say we would have sold to a competitor of ours. Well, they might have consolidated our plant with another plant, right? 

My brothers and I learned so much from him. He gave us the reins early, like in the 1980s when we were expanding.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the 180 people we have working with us, and the people that came before them, so you know, there’s a part of that that we feel very much like the business was entrusted to us, not ours to do with what we wanted.”

Sitting in his father’s office, surrounded by memories of the past and visions of a bright future, Catalana begins to tear up thinking how his own children have embraced the business and are now helping to represent it. 

“I’m sitting here, it was my dad’s office and you know, I currently reside here, but it still feels like it was his,” he says during a morning interview with SNJ Today. 

“My brothers and I learned so much from him. He gave us the reins early, like in the 1980s when we were expanding. And my dad was one that would like to explain things along the way. He wasn’t a great big planner, but when he would do something or he would tell you about something, he would take the time to give you the why. Why it was done that way or what the history was with my grandfather. So he was an explainer, and he was a good storyteller. And we learned a lot from him. And I know how proud he was of us.”

It’s all about the future now, says Catalana: “Someone told me a long time ago, and I never really appreciated it at the time: ‘You will be more proud of what your kids will accomplish than if you did it yourself.’”

Catalana says he’s never understood it more clearly than now. 

The Catalana family and the existing management team will continue to lead all day-to-day operations including customer relationships, milk procurement, and production. 

“We will continue to run Cumberland Dairy’s day-to-day operations from the same locations, with the same great people, pursuing new and exciting goals,” Catalana told employees,

Innovation Foods, a juice, beverage, and flavor manufacturer, will remain an independent company wholly owned by the Catalana family. Rachel Catalana is running that operation, says her proud father. 

Catalana says he is not only proud of his family and the company’s evolution, but of the county in which the company has thrived. “And so for the DFA looking at us, our location, where we are here—while it is not the county we grew up in, and it has its challenges that we all know, we have good people here, we’re close to markets, we’ve got an existing manufacturing base here and they want to invest behind it,” says Catalana. “So that’s a good story for Cumberland County.”

While Cumberland Dairy already works with the McDonald’s and Wawas of the world, with the acquisition by the DFA, Catalana believes his grandfather would be even more proud.  

“I was eight when he passed away, so I remember him a little bit,” says Catalana. 

“He was a tinkerer, he quit school when he was in 7th grade in order to earn money for the family. I think the thing we inherited along the way was this looking to what’s next. He was one of the first ones to get out of milk bottles and go to milk cartons. He was one of the first ones to do chocolate milk. My dad was one of the first ones to do stuff for McDonald’s. So the only reason we’re here is because we were looking to what’s next.

"And so I think in that regard, he’d be proud."

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