When Carl Colteryahn All Star Dairy Inc. set out to upgrade it's Pittsburgh plant five years ago, the owners decided to seek the advice of other dairies that had been through a similar process, including other members of the All Star Dairy Association.

"We visited plants over a six-month time period to see what was working and what wasn't and what would meet our needs," says Carl Colteryahn III, v.p. and general mgr. It was important to decide what improvements should take priority and which would provide the greatest return for the money.

Having completed the $5 million expansion and improvement project in 1998, the company now has some advice of its own on renovating a dairy.

"Our biggest improvements were in case-handling equipment upgrades and in designing a facility that's easy to clean," Colteryahn says. "We would have four recommendations to anyone who is rebuilding their plant:

"First, use as much stainless steel in the plant as you can afford. Stainless steel will last a lifetime. Second, use all galvanized structural steel. It was calculated early in the planning stages that the first time we had to strip and re-paint painted steel, we would have spent the difference that it cost us to use the galvanized steel.

"Third, use brick floors, pitched 1/4 inch per foot. There is no such thing as perfect flooring, but brick is the closest thing to it. Fourth, install plenty of hose stations. Plants are kept clean if hoses are within easy reach."

Other upgrades include a new 6,100 square foot cooler with evaporators built into a penthouse built into the top of the cooler roof. An entire new ammonia system was built to handle the job. There's also a new HEPA-filtration HVAC system in both the bottling room, and the empty bottle storing room. New brick flooring was included throughout most of the plant and glazed-face block walls were added to the processing and bottling rooms. A new Pace single-serve bottle unscrambler was installed to keep up with the increasing demand for single-serve HDPE and PET bottles.

"It's the best piece of equipment in the place," Colteryahn says. "It's operation has been flawless since the day it was installed."

Maintaining tradition and finding a niche

Colteryahn is the fourth generation in his family involved in the dairy business in Pittsburgh. His father, Carl Colteryahn Jr., is the current president. Recalling the history of the family business, Carl Jr. motions to an old photo of his father. The resemblance between father and son is striking.

"My grandfather actually had a different dairy on what is now called the old South Side," Carl Jr. says. "He helped my father get started here. They had a regional agreement that they would not deliver on our part of town and we would not deliver on their end of town."

Carl Colteryahn Dairy was found ed in 1917. The company changed as the milk trade evolved. As home delivery gave way to store sales, Carl Jr. saw an opportunity.

"In 1959 we joined All Star Dairies, and in 1962 John Utterback was really interested in something he saw going on down south with little stores called 7-Elevens," says Carl Jr.

Utterback, the founder of All Star, thought convenience stores would make a great outlet for the dairies, and he founded a c-store franchise corporation. "John came up with the name Stop N Go," Carl Jr. says.

The Colteryahn family set up a separate company from Colteryahn Dairy that became the Pittsburgh Stop N Go franchise. The franchise eventually separated from Stop N Go and became Co Go. There are now 91 stores in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland and five in China. The stores continue to provide an outlet for Colteryahn dairy products.

When consolidation in the dairy industry began to take off in earnest more than a decade ago, Colteryahn was faced with three options. It could try to expand and acquire other dairies. It could become a target for acquisition. Or it could find a niche that would allow it to co-exist with larger dairies. The Colteryahns chose the third option.

Colteryahn began looking to larger dairies for co-packing opportunities. Because of its small size, the company has the flexibility to do smaller product runs that aren't economical for larger processors. There are 45 employees at Colteryahn, and Carl III says there is an intrinsic value in working with a small group.

"The business, by virtue of having great people who care, really runs itself," he says.
Retooling for success

Of course, to produce dairy products you need a functional dairy plant. The improvements were made to allow Colteryahn to more efficiently take advantage of business opportunities.

"For years prior to the expansion we had opportunities that we had to pass on," says Carl III.

Colteryahn worked with Facilities Design Inc. of Lancaster, Pa. to design the improvements. They have produced a plant that's part workhorse and part state-of-the- art.

"We spent almost a year with the architects just determining where we expected to be and how we expected to get there," Carl III says. "When you act as your own architect, you typically aren't forced to determine how your facility should be operating five or six years down the road. Big mistakes are made because you build for the short run rather than the long run."

The new cooler was topped with a one-piece white membrane roof to reflect radiant heat. A penthouse refrigeration system was chosen to place evaporators where the warm air wants to go. Warm air naturally rises to the top of the cooler, eliminating the traditional, costly method of keeping cooler air from stratifying. Colder air then gently falls to the floor throughout the cooler by way of ductwork near the ceiling. This allows for a more quiet and comfortable work environment at 36 F. The penthouse also provides easy access to the air units from the roof for inspection, cleaning and service.

High-pressure, sodium lighting was chosen for the cooler to help prevent product oxidation.

"Trucks are typically loaded directly out of the cooler," says Carl III. "This places a tremendous load on the cooling system and requires frequent, costly evaporator defrosts.

"Our loading area is kept outside the cooler in its own room. Cases pass through a narrow opening from the cooler so that they can be loaded quickly into refrigerated trucks."

The dairy is currently operating seven fillers.

A high-speed 28-valve Cemac filler for single-serve plastic had been in storage and had to be rebuilt.

Since the Cemac company is out of business, Colteryahn worked with H.H. Franz Co., in Baltimore, to re build the filler.

The Cemac accepts 16-and 20-oz. bottles at 280 bottles per minute. A 21-valve Federal filler is used for gallon, half gallon and quart bottles. A mini filler is currently running 4-, 6- and 8-oz. gabletops at rates of up to 170 per minute.

The mini filler was added in 1998 to give entrance to the institutional milk market, which is now a good part of the company's business. It will be replaced in June with a four-lane N-7 filler that will increase bottling rates of the small cartons by more than 35 %.

A standard size gabletop filler packages 8 oz., 16 oz. and 32 oz. cartons at 80, 80 and 110 per minute, respectively. A half-gallon paper filler runs 45 halves per minute.

The plant also has an inline, two lane, sour cream filler and a special filler for foodservice bags. Milk is packaged in 5-gallon bags, ice cream mix in 2.5-gallon bags and 275-gallon totes.

Pallet racking is galvanized steel.

"Pallet racking typically looks very used or worn," says Carl III. "Ours to this day looks as good as the day it was installed." The entire refrigeration system is controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC) that automatically makes adjustments to keep systems running at peak efficiency. The PLC also allows employees to monitor and make changes to the system from anywhere in the world, and it can alert personnel at home if a problem develops.

The plant currently produces 138 stock keeping units, including a wide range of milk, sour cream, ice cream mix, juices, ice teas, drinks, and premium flavored syrups for shaved ice. With its co-packing business, products reach consumers in 10 states.

In 1944 there were 44 milk and ice cream plants in Pittsburgh. Carl Colteryahn Dairy is now the only fluid milk plant within the Pittsburgh city limits.