MODESTO -- Hundreds of gallon jugs scooted along on conveyors, waiting to be filled with milk, as Frank Otis talked with a few of his employees.
As president and chief executive officer at Foster Farms Dairy in Modesto, he works to ensure that this perishable product gets safely to consumers and that supply matches demand in the volatile dairy industry.
Otis, on the job for seven months, is the first CEO who is not part of the Foster family, which founded the company in 1941.
His duties include completing the transition of Foster products to the Crystal Creamery brand, the name of a Sacramento dairy company acquired in 2007.
"It's simple and -- no pun intended -- it's clear," Otis said of the new name. "The family would really like us to have a unified brand."
He talked about the industry, and his company's part in it, during a Thursday morning tour of the Kansas Avenue plant. It produces fluid milk for California consumers, as well as butter, powdered milk, sour cream, ice cream and many other products for markets in the United States and export destinations.
A steady stream of tankers delivers raw milk from 23 dairy farms between Manteca and Chowchilla; five of them are owned by the company, the rest by contractors.
Max and Verda Foster founded the company two years after starting a poultry operation with the same name.
Blending 2 brands
Otis, 52, has more than 20 years of dairy experience, most recently as president and CEO of the French-owned Alouette cheese company in the United States. In his new job, he reports to a seven-member board that includes four Foster family members.
The Crystal transition started soon after the purchase and is expected to be complete in about a year. The milk jugs, ice cream cartons and other products already have "Crystal" in big letters and "Foster family owned" in a smaller font. The logos on many of the trucks also have been converted.
One thing is not changing: The company remains one of Modesto's largest employers, with more than 600 workers.
"Foster Farms is a very important processor in our state," said Michael Marsh, chief executive officer at Western United Dairymen, a farmer group based in Modesto. "They offer consumers a broad range of dairy products."
The shift to the Crystal label allows the company to leverage "a whole bunch of brand equity," Marsh said.
Crystal was founded in Sacramento in 1901 and long was a prominent part of that area's dairy market. The brand identification there, as well as in the Stockton area, helped prompt the shift, Otis said.
He said Crystal's dairy market share in Northern California -- generally stretching from Stockton north to Redding -- is about 9 percent. Ultimately, he hopes to boost that to 25 percent to 30 percent.
Foster Farms will remain the name of the poultry company, which has its headquarters and a chicken plant in Livingston and produces turkeys in Turlock.
Foster Farms Dairy's push to become all-Crystal Creamery drew approval from Robert Reynolds, a supermarket consultant in Moraga.
"I became aware that Foster Farms actually owned Crystal within the last week, and I can't tell you exactly why I didn't know that," Reynolds said.
"I believe Crystal is a strong brand, especially in the Central Valley around Stockton, but now I'm starting to see it appear in some stores in the East Bay Area."
Name stands for milk
Reynolds also said the push for Crystal Creamery is smart because, even though Foster Farms' poultry operations are separate from its dairy operations, the public has a mind-set on the Foster Farms name. "For many ... Foster Farms stands for chicken. Crystal stands for milk," Reynolds said.