January 30, 2022 at 7:11 p.m.
People moving product

Midwestern icon relies on milk, ice cream

Dairy vital to success of Kwik Trip
Sam Ellingson (left) and Dave Schoh are both quality control laboratory technicians at the dairy plant in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. PHOTO SUBMITTED
Sam Ellingson (left) and Dave Schoh are both quality control laboratory technicians at the dairy plant in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. PHOTO SUBMITTED

By Abby [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

LA CROSSE, Wis. – The iconic Kwik Trip gas station stores are moving dairy products around the Midwest and beyond. What began as a single store in 1981 has grown to 800 locations and counting. 
John McHugh, direction of public relations at Kwik Trip, said the company’s growth was done with a family-oriented mindset. 
“We are a family-owned company that values the Midwestern roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic,” McHugh said. 
More than 80% of the products in the stores are produced in La Crosse through Kwik Trip’s own bakery, dairy and kitchens. The dairy intake bay accepts 20.98 million pounds of raw milk every month. 
Additionally, non-fat dry milk is used in some of the products.
“Kwik Trip’s finished product list consists of seven types of milk plus their limited-time offers; whole, 2%, 1%, skim, low-fat chocolate, chocolate and strawberry,” said Jeremy Nickelotti, Kwik Trip dairy director.
The company also produces its own half-and-half, ice cream, Italian ice and Greek yogurt. Of all the dairy products offered, the gas station’s top selling fluid product is 2% milk. Of the various ice cream flavors, vanilla tops the list as the most popular. 
The business has two plants on its campus; a fluid milk plant that bottles all of the dairy items and another facility to package the ice cream. The bottling plant brings in the loads of raw milk and stores it in holding silos every day. The holding silos can hold up to 220,000 gallons of raw milk. 
From the holding silos, the milk is pulled into the processing room and sent through a pasteurization system. This removes the butterfat from the milk and incorporates the proper amount back into the milk. Depending on which products are being made, the product then goes through the homogenizer.
Once the pasteurization process is complete, the milk is cooled. The milk is pumped into the pasteurized product silos which can hold up to 98,000 gallons. From the silos, the milk is pulled into one of four milk fillers and put into a bottle or bag.
“Kwik Trip is one of very few places left that does bagged milk,” Nickelotti said. “Another fun fact is that (the company) has a blow mold plant where they make their own half gallons and gallon jugs.”
The bottling process is similar for the flavored products; however, there are a few steps that include the addition of flavoring powders. 
The ice cream process pulls raw milk in and blends the milk with cream and other ingredients to obtain the desired fat content. After the raw ice cream is blended, it is pasteurized and pumped into a pasteurizing aging silo where it is eventually brought back to a flavoring tank. The mix is taken from 36 degrees Fahrenheit down to 20 degrees in the freezing process. The ice cream is then piped into a filler room where individual containers are filled, sealed and dated. From there, the ice cream travels into the spiral freezer, bringing the temperature below zero. Finally, the ice cream is bundled and stacked into the storage freezer before being shipped to stores.
“(The company) sources all of their raw milk through cooperatives which all come from the tri-state area,” Nickelotti said. “Milk can go from the cow to the store in as little as 72 hours.”
Purchasing trends have changed slightly in the last year and a half, with a swing in bottle preference. 
“There was an increase in larger container sales, gallons and half gallons during this last winter,” Nickelotti said. “Since then, over the summer and fall, we have noticed the trend of small bottle purchases returning.”
To keep up with consumer preference, the company is continually looking for new items and flavors to produce.
“Variety allows our guest to gain more variety and to continue our commitment of guest satisfaction,” Nickelotti said.
Part of the company’s success is also being present in the community. They promote dairy products whenever possible.
“Kwik Trip donates to many June Dairy Day events and helps with on-farm breakfast events in their area,” Nickelotti said.
Further involvement in the dairy industry comes from the company having a seat on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association and being a member of the International Dairy Foods Association. They also compete in dairy product contests. The strawberry milk received first place, of 1,400 entries, in the 2021 World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest.
Nickelotti said none of Kwik Trip’s success would be possible without the dairy industry.
“The dairy industry is a vital part of our process,” Nickelotti said. “Without it, we would not have a plant.” 
McHugh agreed.
“The dairy industry and farmers are extremely important to the business,” he said. “Without them, Kwik Trip would be unable to supply their guests with the items they are accustomed to acquiring at their locations. Kwik Trip counts on their co-ops and patrons to supply them with the highest quality milk possible so that they can supply their guests the best quality products possible. Without farmers doing what they do to care for their animals, Kwik Trip couldn’t supply the high-quality items they do.”


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