Organic, Alaska-only milk is a future for Mat Maid

When the Alaska creamery board announced that they had shut down the Matanuska Maid dairy plant, mixed feelings came from Alaskans when Governor Sarah Palin dismissed the agricultural board and announced new members days later. This led to new faces in the creamery board and a reversal of the decision. Whether it is right or wrong for the state to financially support the struggling dairy is up for debate, but now that the Alaska dairy will stay open, how can Matanuska Maid have a successful future?

Downsizing appears to be the best option to keep Alaska’s debt-fighting dairy afloat. There are many ways this can be achieved.

Although products say they are Matanuska Maid, many consumers believe they are truly Matanuska made. After all, hearing “Mat Maid” in a commercial sounds equivalent to “Mat made.” The fact is, 72 to 80 percent of the products’ milk comes from outside Alaska, according to state news sources.

Cutting the out-of-state dairy from Mat Maid products is an option that could connect the company to a specialized audience of Alaskans.

Using only Alaska milk and ensuring farmers follow a few rules would allow the company to market its products as no one else can, organic and truly from Alaska. There is a huge segment of consumers who want organic foods. Isles in the supermarkets are dedicated to these products alone.

Besides, Mat Maid might have lost some of its customers when those customers realized only a small amount of their money was going toward fresher, locally produced milk.

Sole use of Alaska milk would lower the quantity the dairy could bring to customers. However, the limited stock, combined with demand from consumers for the freshest foods, may allow Mat Maid to become more profitable. Right now people are willing to buy Mat Maid milk for almost a dollar more than other brands, although it is hardly different. Why wouldn’t consumers pay more for milk that actually comes straight from the Matanuska Valley to local stores?

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Alaska dairy farms alone cannot produce the quantity of products Mat Maid currently provides in stores, and actually, this could be a good thing. Downsizing the size of the plant or the number of times and length it runs per week would make it less expensive to operate. Yes, this means workers would lose jobs, but that is better than the alternative. If the plant closed, all of the employees would be jobless, and the dairy farmers would be ruined – having to kill their cattle with no one to buy the milk and no income to feed the hungry heifers.

The number of products Mat Maid produces could also be reduced; this way the milk wouldn’t be spread thin across many products, instead filling a smaller amount of quality products. Most Alaskans are familiar with Mat Maid’s milk and chocolate milk with different percentages of fat. However, the dairy plant also produces reduced-fat buttermilk, half and half, premium and light eggnog, whipping cream, yogurt, Glacier Yo, cottage cheese, and sour cream.

Mat Maid also produces two non-dairy products: orange juice and bottled water. Plus it manufactures plastic bottles.

The company could cut some or all of the extra products to lessen production costs – especially the orange juice. How and why are we making orange juice in a state with no orange orchards? The label says, “Contains Alaska water, concentrated orange juice from Florida.” I’m sure shipping orange juice from Florida is an unnecessary expense. This is an unwarranted product; the $600,000 grant from the state should not help produce a product that does not support local farmers.

Cutting time-consuming products also seems like a smart choice. For example, creating yogurt requires time to allow the bacteria to grow and ferment the milk. With unnecessary products gone, unneeded plant equipment can be sold to help pay off debt. Plus, a smaller variety of products will reduce the amount of money Mat Maid spends on packaging.

Canceling unnecessary products, excluding outside milk and creating an organic product would establish a less expensive way to save the careers of Alaska dairy farmers, while providing Alaskans with a new and exclusive product.