Simply the best
Foothills Creamery has been producing quality dairy products at its Calgary plant since 1969. This longevity, and the well earned reputation it has resulted in, can be at least partially credited to President Don Bayrack’s philosophy for business and life. “Don’t sit on the fence,” he says. “Come up with your game plan, stick to it, and go through the good times and the bad times.”
Bayrack put that philosophy into practice 43 years ago, when he and two partners – George Heidebrecht and Ken Farr – purchased the Foothills plant from Swift Canadian. At the time, Bayrack was a butter maker for that company, who decided to close the plant and sell the lucrative property it was positioned on. “We asked if them if we could buy the equipment and move it and carry on,” Bayrack recounts. “We made a deal with them to allow us to work out of there for six months, and then we moved over to where we are now.”
In the early years, Foothills Creamery made and sold butter – at the time there was a shortage, so unloading it was never a problem. They also provided a service of buying and selling parts for cream separators and milk machines to farmers. “We lived on straight butter manufacturing until 1986,” Bayrack says. “Then we branched into ice cream, using our sweet butter milk as the base of the mix. We still do that today. It actually makes better ice cream than milk does.”
When Bayrack took over the business in 1969, there were 80 butter-making plants in the province of Alberta. For the last 15 years, there have only been two. “78 creameries disappeared, so for us to still be here after 42 years is quite an accomplishment,” he says. Not only does Foothills still exist, but they have even grown in that time period – in 1995, they opened a second location in Edmonton to help distribution in Northern Alberta, and 1999 saw the addition of a third location in Kelowna, British Columbia.
At Foothills Creamery, they like to promote their business as being ‘simply the best’. The question is how do they live up to that? “We provide a premium product and premium customer service,” goes Bayrack’s answer.
“First off, we make a few specialty butters that other butter companies don’t have,” he elaborates. “Also, on the ice cream side we make 82 flavours – all premium – for ice cream shops. There’s no one else out there that’s making that many flavours.” The stores Foothills sells to are located all over Western Canada, and consist of what Bayrack calls mom and pop shops – the kind of places that mostly operate in the summer, and shut down for the winter.
If somebody wants to start one of those shops, Foothills is actually eager to assist. “We can help them with acquiring freezers, with advertising, with scoops – the whole ball of wax,” Bayrack says. “Anything they need to get started we can help with.” Foothills has a 1-800 number that people can reach out to in that aim – a number that, along with the website, is displayed on all of the company’s trucks.
“If you have a good lake location, or a spot in a city or town where there is a decent amount of foot traffic, you are a good candidate,” Bayrack explains. “And actually the best advertising for ice cream is some guy walking down the street eating one – because you see that, then all of a sudden you want one too.” Since 1986, Foothills has also offered shop owners an old-fashioned sandwich board to display and advertise the Foothills ice cream availability. They charge 100 bucks for the board, but it pays for itself in effectiveness. “It does pull people in off the road to get ice cream,” Bayrack says.
When it comes to customer service, owning a fleet of trucks comes in handy. “We run our own trucks, we have our own distribution system,” says Bayrack. “Depending on weather and other factors, it’s not unusual for a shop to order 20 tubs of ice cream and then be sold out by the next afternoon.” Fortunately, when working with Foothills Creamery, it is relatively easy for a shop to replenish their order. “They simply have to phone or fax us and we get the order out as quick as possible, sometimes the next day,” he says. “With some of the other larger companies, that’s difficult to do.”
To provide that level of customer care, however, Foothills Creamery is dependent on having high quality employees. It is also fortunate then that the company’s relationship with employees is equally as good as their relationship with customers. “A lot of our people have been with us for a long, long time,” Bayrack says. “Our employees are fantastic, that’s for sure.” Of the 70 people working under the Foothills banner, several have been with the company over 25 years, and a lot of others have made it 10-15 years. “Without our employees, naturally, we couldn’t do what we do.”
The biggest challenge for Bayrack and Foothills Creamery is keeping abreast of the rapidly evolving industry technology. “We have to ensure our equipment is as good and as fast as our competitors,” Bayrack explains. “We have to keep updated.” The company accomplishes this by attending trade shows and equipment shows, as well as through their own independent research. Their membership in the Alberta Food Processors Association – as well as the Alberta Dairy Council and other industry bodies – is advantageous in combating this issue as well.
Looking to the future, Bayrack says he wants to expand their ice cream business and specialty butter business where possible. One specific product they plan on growing is their frozen yoghurt mix. They have been making frozen yoghurt for years as a side business, but as the trend for healthier eating has picked up steam in Canada and around the world, Foothills have pushed that product more to the forefront. “That seems to be the upcoming thing,” Bayrack says. “We’re involved very heavily in making mix for people in that business.”
In general, however, the future of Foothills lays in abiding by Bayrack’s philosophy. That philosophy has led the business to success for over 40 years so far. There is no reason to doubt it will not do the same for the next 40 years.