Since 1914, Kemps has been delighting families throughout the upper Midwest with wholesome and delicious dairy products. Today, Kemps is a farmer-owned brand and wholly-owned subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) with 100% of its profits going to dairy farmers and their families.
From its beginnings as a small creamery in Southeastern Minnesota, Kemps has extended its roots to include the manufacture and marketing of fresh milk, premium ice cream and frozen yogurt, frozen novelties, sour cream, and cottage cheese through retail supermarkets and food service channels.
William Kemps and Walter Lathrop joined together to form the Lathrop-Kemps Ice Cream Company, at 222 Fifth Street, Minneapolis, in 1914. It is considered the birthplace of Kemps. By 1916, The Lathrop-Kemps Ice Cream plant was producing 30 tons of ice cream per day and averaged 260 gallons of ice cream per hour.
The Kemps Ice Cream Company was sold to its St. Paul competitor, Crescent Creamery, in 1924. By 1961, a merger of Crescent, Kemps and Marigold Dairies of Wisconsin would create Marigold Foods. The merger modernized and expanded each brand. From 1961 to 1967, Marigold Foods doubled in size.
In 2002, Marigold Foods formally changed its company name to Kemps. In 2011, DFA purchased Kemps, giving the company the resources of its 12,500 members. The following year, Kemps purchased Cass-Clay, the leading dairy in North Dakota.
Headquartered today in St. Paul, Minn., Kemps operates six manufacturing facilities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa, and has more than 1,200 employees.
The Kemps way
Greg Kurr, president of Kemps and group vice president of DFA Dairy Brands, said the purpose at Kemps is to “nourish families.”
“We do this by providing great-tasting, wholesome dairy products that nourish families and promote happiness; through the support we provide each other as a family of employees; through the engagement of our employees in the communities we serve; and through the return we provide for our farmer owners and their families,” he said.
Kurr said Kemps also empowers its employees to live by its core values – integrity, passion, performance, quality, innovation and accountability.
“We call this the ‘Kemps Way’ and we are committed to living by these behaviors each and every day within the workplace, with our customers and in the communities in which we serve,” he said. “Simply stated, we strive to do the right thing, do our very best and treat others with respect.”
Kemps has a strong following and deep consumer loyalty in the upper Midwest, having run an endearing advertising campaign for several decades with the tagline, “Kemps. It’s the Cows.”
“Our brand also has a strong history of developing innovative products, and was first-to-market with frozen yogurt, sour cream in a squeeze-able bottle and cryogenically frozen ice cream bitz for retail distribution,” he said. “This year, we also launched a first-of-its-kind Smooth Cottage Cheese for kids.”
Kemps is also well known for its creative ice cream flavors like best-selling Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler and Java Chunk, which is made with real Caribou Coffee. The brand is also the ‘official dairy and ice cream’ of the Green Bay Packers and offers unique Packers-themed ice cream flavors, dip flavors and special Packers-themed milk packaging.
As consumers today look for additional nutritional and wellness benefits in their foods, Kurr said milk is the original health food with 8 grams of high-quality protein and a powerful package of key nutrients that really delivers what consumers are looking for.
“We must continue to leverage dairy’s inherent nutrient package, while also looking for ways to appeal to and be more relevant for modern families by meeting their lifestyle needs through on-the-go solutions,” he said.
What’s more, Kurr said, as the industry continues to see increasing interest from consumers in local products and knowing where their food comes from, dairy has a really great sustainability story to tell.
“Our DFA farmers are good stewards of the land and have been focused on protecting the land and shrinking their environmental footprint for generations, so we need to continue to help consumers understand that they can feel good about eating dairy,” he added.
On the nutrition front, consumers are looking for additional nutritional benefits in their foods, so products with added protein or other nutrients are garnering attention, Kurr said.
“On the flip side, they are also looking for ways to reduce sugar, so they’re seeking out products with less sugar or especially added sugars,” he said. “We’re also seeing added value benefits trending as consumers look for their foods and beverages to do more, such as having probiotic benefits to help support digestive health and immunity.”
As sustainability continues to be important to today’s consumers, more and more people want to know where their foods come from, and if the products were responsibly made.
“With dairy, we have a great story to tell, as farmers have been on a sustainability journey for decades,” Kurr said. “DFA farm families are always thinking about the next sustainable effort or technology because their farms are their futures, and they want to preserve and improve them for the next generation.”
For example, Kurr said, many of DFA’s family farms are utilizing a variety of methods to help protect the land and reduce emissions, including regenerative agriculture practices, renewable energy methods, anaerobic digesters and so much more.
In terms of other industry trends, Kurr said taste is always an important driver in consumer purchase decisions.
“With dairy, we’re seeing a lot of interest in trying fun and unique flavors that provide consumers with new taste experiences,” he said. “At Kemps, we’ve had a lot of fun developing different flavors over the years with our ice creams, seasonal flavored milks, and even in the cultured space with cottage cheese.”
A product revolution
Kemps recently launched a revolutionary new cottage cheese made for kids with no curds and a smooth and creamy texture — Kemps Smooth Cottage Cheese.
“Made with four-percent whole milk cottage cheese and mixed with real, blended fruit (no chunks or mixing to do), this new cottage cheese is more like a yogurt, which we know kids love, but packs a protein punch with almost twice as much protein per ounce as most yogurts, so parents can feel good about giving it to their kids for lunch or a snack,” Kurr said.
Kemps Smooth Cottage Cheese comes in three flavors – Mixed Berry, Strawberry and Strawberry Banana – and features special characters from the powerhouse portfolio of Hasbro, including Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and Transformers, in convenient 4-ounce, four-cup packs.
The company shared that it conducted a survey and found more than 40% of respondents would eat cottage cheese if it “tasted better and had a better texture.”
“At Kemps, we are always looking for ways to meet consumer needs and know parents are seeking nutritious options that are kid approved,” said Nathaniel Renteria, senior brand manager, Kemps.
In addition to the Smooth Cottage Cheese, the company has other exciting innovations coming down the pike.
“This year we’re introducing some really fun, new frozen flavors, including All-American Sugar Cookie ice cream, Peechy Keen and Apple Crisp frozen yogurt, and Sour Watermelon and Galaxy Grape IttiBitz, which are our cryogenically frozen or pelletized ice cream bitz served in a cup,” Kurr said.
Additionally, Kemps carries a full portfolio of dairy and frozen dessert products for both retail consumers and foodservice channels. Products include traditional milk, flavored milk, creams, egg nogs and holiday beverages, ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, frozen novelties, sour cream, cottage cheese, dips and yogurt.
“This year, we’re really excited to expand the Kemps brand in the Chicagoland market,” Kurr said. “Our goal is to become the preferred brand of milk, cultured and frozen desserts for Chicago consumers. To help build awareness, we’re launching a 360-marketing campaign this spring.”
Connecting with the community
Kurr said one way Kemps connects with both consumers and the local communities that it serves is through its Giving Cow program.
The Giving Cow is an 8-ounce airtight carton of 2% milk that’s shelf-stable for up to a year and is designed specifically to feed families in need.
“We started the program in 2019 as we were looking for a way to give back and contribute to our local communities. As a dairy company, we thought it made sense to focus on helping feed people,” Kurr said.
“As we did some research and talked to some area food banks, we learned that milk is one of the most requested items by families, yet least donated items at food pantries, because many of these facilities don’t have enough refrigeration.
“That’s when we realized that we had a real opportunity to make a difference in helping give kids and families access to nutrient-rich milk that’s shelf-stable so pantries could keep it on hand.”
Through 2022, Kemps has donated more than 2 million shelf-stable Giving Cow milk packs to food banks throughout the Midwest in cities such as Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wis., Omaha, Neb., and Des Moines, Iowa, to name a few.
“And we’re not done yet,” Kurr said.
The brand has a strong history of developing innovative products and fun frozen flavors that consumers love, which Kurr said has been a key in making Kemps a beloved brand in its region.
“Our Giving Cow program also has really set us apart and helped the brand create connections with consumers in our local communities,” he said.
Kurr said Kemps has a sophisticated approach to customer development, grounded in consumer and shopper insights as well as data analytics.
In terms of operations, he said, Kemps is always striving for continuous improvement and operational excellence, seeking out new technologies and innovation such as upgrading and replacing equipment on an ongoing basis and developing policies to ensure continued product safety.
“In addition to our manufacturing plants’ ongoing food safety, quality and workplace safety programs to ensure that we’re meeting the highest standards, we have a Safe Quality Foods (SQF) initiative in all of our plants,” Kurr said.
Developed and executed by the Safe Quality Food Institute, the program certifies that Kemps products are created, prepared and handled according to the highest possible standards throughout the supply chain.
The main objective at Kemps is simple, according to Kurr.
“Our top priority is producing safe, nutritious and high-quality milk and dairy products for the communities we serve.”