He speculated that gaining market share and shelf space in larger Northern California stores will be a challenge as Crystal Creamery products will compete for attention with well-known national brands and increasing numbers of private-label brands.
However, Reynolds added that Crystal has an advantage in the Northern California market because the brand has been around for so long.
"It stands for local. It stands for quality, in the minds of some people. All of those are strong brand attributes," he said.
Peter Schaub, a marketing and branding expert in New York, also likes Crystal Creamery's chances up the road.
"If you were coming into a part of the country cold with a totally unknown brand, I'd say you're going to have a real fight on your hands to gain market share and opportunities from retailers," Schaub said. "But if the brand already has a certain iconic status in the region, you're ahead of the game."
The dairy company, while drawing inspiration from the past, also has an eye on the future. Otis said it is exploring new packaging, new options for flavored milk and the increased use of "probiotic" yogurt for digestive health.
He also noted research into the idea that athletes can re-energize by chugging chocolate milk. "That's the biggest challenge of the milk industry -- we need to innovate," he said.
Athletes on cartons
Crystal's regional marketing blitz includes a touch borrowed from Wheaties, the cereal brand that long has featured box covers with photos of nationally known athletes. Crystal's spin on that is putting California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section sports champions on commemorative milk cartons to honor their success.
The sponsorship program was launched this fall and will include champions in winter and spring sports in 2013.
The Sac-Joaquin Section includes 196 high schools in 27 athletic leagues representing more than 225,000 student athletes.
Milk is the top-grossing farm product in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and statewide, but high feed costs have squeezed the margins in recent years. Otis said the industry must reform the complex milk pricing system in a way that helps farmers turn a profit.
"I think the industry needs to come to grips with the fact that everybody has to make money at this, and the volatility only adds to the difficulty of doing that," he said.
Dairy might be the most complex of farm enterprises, but it has a simple advantage: It makes tasty products that people have long craved. The CEO's own favorite is chocolate chip ice cream.
"Some people like to have a glass of wine," Otis said. "I like to have a cup of ice cream."
Modesto Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
AT A GLANCE
A brief history of Foster Farms Dairy:
Origin: Founded in Modesto in 1941 by Max and Verda Foster, who also started the Foster Farms poultry company two years earlier. The family still owns both.
Employees: About 1,100, including more than 600 at the headquarters and main plant on Kansas Avenue in Modesto
Annual sales: About $600 million
Products: Fluid milk, whipping cream, buttermilk, egg nog, juices, butter, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, frozen yogurt and others
Key acquisitions: Foster Farms bought Crystal Creamery in Sacramento in 2007; it is in the process of transitioning all products to the Crystal label. In 2009, Foster Farms bought Humboldt Creamery near Eureka, including an organic line.