After more than 100 years, Roberts Dairy name is disappearing

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 12:00 am

That familiar Roberts Dairy label soon will disappear from the grocery aisle.

The products on the inside aren't going anywhere, but starting next month, Roberts Dairy will begin marketing its milk and other dairy products solely under the Hiland Dairy Foods name to save on labeling and marketing costs.

The Roberts Dairy name dates to 1906, when a Lincoln-area farmer named J.R. Roberts started home delivery of milk from his herd of 60 cows. In just a couple of years, Roberts expanded into a plant in downtown Lincoln.

In 1911, his operation became an incorporated company and he moved to a new plant at 16th and N Streets in Lincoln. At the time it was the only dairy that sold pasteurized milk to the area. Between 1918 and 1929, the company opened branches in Sioux City, Iowa, and Omaha.

Today, Roberts operates two production plants and distribution centers in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Roberts is Nebraska's largest dairy producer.

Roberts has been a division of Prairie Farms-Hiland Dairy, a farmer-owned cooperative, since 1981, and the decision to change the Roberts name allows the company to unify its brand, Hiland said Wednesday.

The dairy gets its milk from Dairy Farmers of America members, and 90 percent of the raw milk is provided by dairy farmers within 100 miles of the Omaha plant.

With the name change, none of that will change.

“The only thing changing is the label on the package,” Gary Aggus, president and general manager of Hiland Dairy, said in a statement. “Under the Hiland brand, Roberts is still the same local, farmer-owned dairy ... and will continue to produce milk in Omaha and Kansas City.”

He said blending the brands is “a natural progression.”

Hiland officials said the change won't affect any existing staff, plant operations or facilities. Roberts' Omaha plant, at 2901 Cuming St., employs 229 of Roberts' 700 workers.

The Omaha plant processes about 120,000 gallons of milk per day, which translates into processing one full tanker truck of milk every hour. The Omaha plant also bottles orange juice and fruit drinks and makes 850,000 pounds of sour cream and dip each month for distribution to all its markets. The 16 ounce to-go drinks are also bottled at the Omaha location.

Brian Breci, general manager of the dairy's Omaha division, said he plans to add up to 10 people in the next couple of months because of sales growth.

Hiland, an 11-plant operation with corporate headquarters in Springfield, Mo., said research shows that customers shouldn't be too confused by the change. Nearly 90 percent of shoppers surveyed in Des Moines, Kansas City and Omaha said they would buy Hiland Dairy milk if it has the same quality and freshness as Roberts milk and is produced by local farmers.

Other shoppers said they already thought the two were the same. The Roberts and Hiland labels both feature a similar “splash” image, and the Roberts label already, in smaller type, displayed that it was a division of Hiland Dairy.

“There's a little bit of a heart tug when it comes to the Roberts name,” Breci said, “but it's a good thing. It's been very well-received.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1192, emily.nohr@owh.com

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