The iPhone on his hip alerted Leroy Shatto to a new e-mail in his in-box during January's Top Producer Seminar. He read the message and smiled with pride in a moment that's been repeated often over the past five years.
"I just wanted to let you know how much my family enjoys your milk," said the e-mail from a Kansas City–area mother. "Our family has had some financial troubles lately and we have had to cut back on some expenses. But one area we won't sacrifice is buying Shatto Milk."
"Wow. That's what makes this all worth it," says the Osborn, Mo., dairy farmer turned northwest Missouri local milk magnate and 2008 Top Producer of the Year finalist. "I mean, look at that. I can't tell you how proud that makes me."
Five years ago, Shatto faced a financial crossroads after nearly 30 years in business. The paths available: Make changes, or quit dairying. He chose the more difficult route of completely restructuring his business from dairy farm to milk company.
"It scared us because we didn't know whether people were going to buy our milk to start with," Shatto says with his habitual self-deprecating air, "let alone from some dumb dairyman who has his milk in a glass bottle. They don't even know who he is, and he's charging more money for his milk. That was scary, but it worked."
The path has led him to be a runner-up for National Small Busi-ness Person of the Year, which meant a visit to the Oval Office and a meeting with President George Bush. He's also won numerous national advertising and marketing awards.
New beginnings. The money has been there, certainly far better than he received as a commodity milk producer, but it's the newfound pride that has energized him to continue building Shatto Milk Company to unprecedented success.
Glass bottles adorned with large black words like "Local," "Yummy," "Fresh" and "Pure," among others, fly off grocery-store shelves. At Christmas, the bottles of eggnog say "Cheers!" Northwest Missouri has taken to Shatto's goal of "bringing fun back to drinking milk."
The once "nearly-broke farm" now produces 36,000 bottles of milk weekly and supplies cream and butter to retail grocery stores in Kansas City and area upscale restaurants. It has also recently expanded its product line to cheese, ice cream and even milk soap.
The fun has been brought back through traditional milk flavors like white and chocolate, but Shatto's not afraid to experiment either. Root beer, orange Dreamsicle and banana are all popular flavors. He's also experimented with cotton candy flavor.