Marcus Dairy Inc.
In an increasingly commercialized agricultural industry, few small dairy operations remain. However, Marcus Dairy Inc. (Marcus Dairy) has withstood the test of time, staying in the game for almost 100 years. The regional distributor, serving Connecticut and New York, has managed to keep pace with an ever changing industry since the Marcus family established the operation in the early 1900s.
Based in Danbury, Conn., the family-owned and-operated company has seen others come and go over the course of almost 100 years. “The industry and the face of agriculture and retail for that matter have dramatically changed from what it was 20 years ago,” says Bill Fitchett, now general manager of Marcus Dairy. “There are nowhere near as many mom-and-pop retailers anymore and there has been tremendous consolidation with fewer, larger companies doing more. The smaller players are getting squeezed out of the business.”
A family-to-family, door-to-door tradition
While Marcus Dairy has certainly felt the pressure, trying to keep pace with the transforming industry, Fitchett says the company has relied on a longstanding, respected reputation that began nearly a century ago.
The Marcus Dairy story beings with Harry Marcus and his family. The Marcus clan purchased a small dairy farm in Sharon, Conn., in the early 1900s. In 1919, the family moved the farm to Ridgebury, now a section of Danbury.
By 1924, the family had established a network of regional customers with several milk routes, selling dairy products door-to-door, something that remains a small part of Marcus Dairy’s business to this day. “When I started 20 years ago, there were more home delivery routes, now we’re much more into the wholesale side, but Marcus Dairy still has two home delivery routes, which is unique in this business,” adds Fitchett.
In the late 1930s, Marcus Dairy expanded into the Stamford, Conn., area and Harry’s son, Jack Marcus, joined him in running the business. Rationing during World War II forced the operation to cut back, but by the end of the war Jack had fully taken over and began to expand the business again.
Over the years, the company had acquired several small, independent dairies and in 1946, the family decided it was time to sell the cows and focus on packaging and marketing milk products. “Jack and his brother started out farming, but Jack eventually wanted to break off into manufacturing and distribution, so he built a plant and lived on the same property to get it up and running,” recounts Fitchett. “That site is now closed down, but the Marcus family still owns the property. It’s now a retail area with a Whole Foods, Petco, Panera Bread and a number of other smaller retail outlets.”
In 1947, the company built the Marcus Dairy Bar in Danbury and the restaurant served as a local favorite for many years. After Jack retired in the early 1970s, his son, Michael Marcus, took over daily operations and Neil and Jeffery Marcus, also Jack’s sons, now serve as president and vice president of Marcus Dairy, respectively.
Outsourcing for a new era of success
Like the Marcus family, Fitchett was also born into the dairy business. “I worked for Fitchett Brothers Dairy in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.,” he recalls. “When I joined Marcus Dairy we were packaging and processing all of our own milk, but in 2005 the company closed the processing operation and began outsourcing. Today our product is packaged at the Guida Dairy in New Britain, Conn.”
Marcus Dairy now serves a 100-mile radius of Danbury and the New York metro area, primarily the four boroughs from Brooklyn to the Bronx and Queens. “We’re now mainly a distributor for liquid dairy products, but we still source the raw milk from local dairy farmers,” explains Fitchett. “Today, our customers include those in the food service business, schools, hospitals and independent grocers.”
Unlike some of the big-box chains, Marcus Dairy targets small-scale independent grocers with just a handful of stores. “We can offer them a better level of service with our milk and dairy product line,” adds Fitchett. “We don’t deliver in a massive tractor trailer load like larger distributors, but we do stock more items and a greater variety of products within the dairy department. The major diary companies can’t offer the same level of service because they’re only structured for high volume.”
Growing and evolving alongside the industry is the nature of the beast, according to Fitchett; however, the company has found its niche in customer service and long-standing reputation in the region. “We’ve been here for a long time, building a reputation for service and quality and we don’t intend on going anywhere,” he ensures. Quality products, customer service and the unique convenience of home delivery are still the heart of Marcus Dairy Inc.