By Kim Dishongh
Hiland Dairy Foods, once Coleman Dairy Foods, has had a foothold in Arkansas since 1862.
Eleithet Coleman became the first milk delivery man in Little Rock just after the start of the Civil War, according to Mike Flagg, the company’s general manager.
Flagg arrived in Little Rock 17 years ago to help merge the Coleman and Gold Star dairies into one facility, and he says the company has remained largely the same as it was before the rebranding.
“The Coleman family sold to farmers in the mid-90s, so we’re farmer-owned,” he says.
Coleman became a division of Hiland Dairy in 2006.
“In 2013, we changed the name from Coleman Dairy to Hiland Dairy in the Arkansas market,” he says. “That was just to bring everybody under the same heading, you know, efficiencies in marketing and everything else. But nothing really changed. It was just the name. The management team remained in place; everybody kept their jobs and the Coleman family still works here.”
Cherb Coleman, plant manager, and Walt Coleman, controller, are the fifth generation of Colemans to be employed by the dairy.
“Our milk supply comes directly from our owners. Farmers are conservative business people, and they understand a hard day’s work for a day’s pay. The thing we really like is that they understand taking care of the employees,” Flagg says.
Hiland Dairy bottles milk – white milk, chocolate milk and buttermilk – apple and orange juice, a fruit juice labeled Jungle Punch and Red Diamond Tea.
“We make it just like you would at home,” Flagg says of the tea. “We actually dip the tea bags into the 198-degree water for four minutes, just like you would at home.
Then we add sugar, or we leave it unsweetened, or we add Splenda, and then we cool it down. We bottle over 100,000 gallons a week of tea.”
Valencia oranges, most often sourced from Brazil and Florida because of their opposite growing seasons, but sometimes also from Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize are used to make Hiland Dairy orange juice. Apples are brought in from Washington or Oregon.
Hiland Dairy milk, 10 percent of which is produced on Arkansas dairy farms, is exported from Arkansas to 11 other states, as well as the Caribbean.
Flagg says Arkansans who pick up Hiland Dairy products at the grocery store are not only supporting the 500 employees who work for the company in Little Rock, Fayetteville and Fort Smith, but also supporting the many family-oriented organizations the company funds – the Little Rock Zoo, Ronald McDonald House, the 20th Century Club, the Arkansas Food Bank, Women and Children First and several others.
“Pretty much all of our [advertising] money goes into supporting people who support families,” says Flagg. “I can’t say, I spent this money, and I got this back. Everything we do is an investment back into the community.”