Kalona SuperNatural does dairy the old-fashioned way

Kalona SuperNatural chocolate milk — Zak Neumann/Little Village

In a world dominated by heavy processing and technological advancements, it’s become rarer to find simple, truly all-natural products on grocery store shelves. But Kalona-based dairy producer Kalona SuperNatural aims to bring the age-old tradition of leaving milk cream at the top of the bottle back to today’s consumers nationwide.

Kalona SuperNatural began as a local dairy production brand called Farmer’s All-Natural Creamery, appropriately named for its original intention of getting Iowan farmers’ products to market.

When founder and owner Bill Evans and his family moved to Kalona, Iowa in 2005, he established Kalona Organics to “develop brands that expand markets in the natural/organic food community,” per their website. Kalona Organics created two brands, Farmer’s All Natural Creamery and Cultural Revolution, to help Iowan Amish and Mennonite farms sell their products to a wider consumer base.

“There was a group of Amish farmers that were producing high-quality organic milk and needed an outlet to get it to market,” said Sales and Marketing Manager Sara Rissi, who has worked with the brand for five years. “So the decision was made to create a creamery in order to take this milk to market to make small family dairy-farming a viable lifestyle for the Amish producers in and around Kalona.”

As demand for both brands’ products began to climb, the two entities merged in 2010 to create what is known today as Kalona SuperNatural.

In 2004, Kalona SuperNatural connected with United Natural Foods, Incorporated (UNFI), a natural and organic foods distributor that works with a variety of major chains like Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers, Sprout Farmers Market and Fresh Thyme. Later on, as the company grew, KeHE Distributors began servicing distribution as well.

“We started with targeting smaller retailers,” Rissi said. “Hy-Vee was one of the first customers that we had. Then it just kept growing to the other natural foods distributors.”

“We don’t homogenize our products. We just leave the cream where it belongs, which is on top.” — Sara Rissi

The brand’s rapid growth in popularity is largely due to the farms they work with and the way that products are processed, according to Rissi. Kalona SuperNatural sells products that are certified organic and minimally processed, as they choose to use “traditional, older-school” pasteurization methods like small-batch pasteurization. Small-batch pasteurization involves pasteurizing dairy products at lower temperatures for a longer time, distinguishing Kalona SuperNatural from many of its competitors that sell more heavily processed products.

An employee loads pallets of Kalona SuperNatural milk up for delivery. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“We don’t homogenize our products. We just leave the cream where it belongs, which is on top,” Rissi said. “You know, back in the day when you had milk delivered to your door, you judged the quality of your milk by the amount of cream sitting on top of your milk. We tried to replicate that with our brand and process as little as we can and just try to keep it as natural as possible.”

Despite its growth, Kalona SuperNatural remains committed to using products from the same Midwestern Amish and Mennonite farms that they started out with.

“A lot of these farms have been in the same families for 150 years and have never been touched by chemicals, which is pretty awesome,” Rissi said. “We work with these small family farms to bring you delicious, certified organic cream-topped milk from pasture-grazed cows where the average dairy herd is 35 cows … on about 90 tillable acres.”

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Kalona SuperNatural products tend to cost more than other organic brands, but Rissi believes this cost is worth it if it yields a higher-quality product.

“Many factors impact the cost. First, we work with small, certified organic Amish and Mennonite farmers instead of large-scale factory farms. Second, we use old-school, traditional manufacturing methods like vat pasteurization and a small-batch butter churn,” Rissi said. “Both of these are less efficient and lead to higher product costs, but we believe it is the right thing to do for our farmers, the environment and our consumers.”

Today, Kalona SuperNatural is still run by Kalona Organics, which the corporation Open Gates Group has overseen in a more active role since 2015. Open Gates also maintains seven other groups in the Kalona area: Awesome Logistics, Awesome Refrigerated Transit of Iowa, Farmers Creamery, Frytown Distribution, Kalona Creamery, Kalona Farms and Provision Ingredients.

Kalona SuperNatural buttermilk — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The brand currently offers a full line of dairy products, including white and chocolate milk, whipping cream, buttermilk, butter, cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt. Its most recent addition is kefir, which Rissi describes as “drinkable yogurt.”

Kalona SuperNatural’s full product line is sold primarily throughout the greater Midwest from Minneapolis to the Rocky Mountains. This also extends to Texas and Atlanta, Georgia as well. Cultured products, such as cottage cheese, yogurt and buttermilk, are also offered throughout California and the West Coast, with more scattered distribution on the East Coast.

A result of this exposure: Kalona SuperNatural is now named among the top dairy producers around the country. According to HTF Market Intelligence, a business consulting company, the Iowa brand is one of the top players in the butter market nationwide. Because this market is projected to experience major growth by 2025, Kalona SuperNatural will likely experience continued success as well.

Rissi noted some future goals include expanding distribution on the two types of new kefir products and potentially expanding cheese curd distribution. Sister company Kalona Creamery resumed production of cheese curds recently, and if this production is scaled up, the curds may be sold through Kalona Supernatural in the future.

“We’re always exploring different things,” she said. “The key is staying true to who we are and what we do best, and to honor our customers’ commitment to a healthy household and planet.”

Kalona SuperNatural Greek yogurt — Zak Neumann/Little Village

For those looking to try the brand’s organic foods, or products of similar quality, Rissi said to look out for the cream on top, indicating “clean” ingredients and “the best flavor.”

“If [consumers] are looking for better dairy products that are processed as little as possible that replicate the form of dairy in its natural state, they should consider organic foods,” Rissi said. “We have a lot of consumers that aren’t organic foodies that just really resonate with our brand because it’s the way that they remember butter or buttermilk or cottage cheese tasting when their grandparents used to make them stuff in their kitchen. It’s just true to what the products were originally before all of the really processed stuff started appearing on the shelf.”