Opinions & Sacred Cows: Alpenrose Dairy in Oregon spotlight

By Ron Goble

It’s not often that a dairy grabs the spotlight in the high-powered world of corporate culture. But at the end of 2009, Alpenrose Dairy, a family-owned Portland-based company for more than 90 years, was named “Oregon’s No. 1 Most Admired Company.”

Alpenrose Dairy topped the list of several distinguished honorees, including Reser’s Fine Foods, Boyd Coffee Company, Widmer Brewing Company and Pacific Seafood Group.

“We are truly honored to receive the award for most admired company in the state,” said Rod Birkland and Carl Cadonau Jr., copresident of Alpenrose Dairy. They gave credit to their hard-working employees.

More than 1,800 Oregon CEOs and top-level managers voted for the 2009 Most Admired Companies in Oregon. Companies were ranked on attributes such as innovation, quality of products and services, customer service and community involvement. Award recipients were selected from eight industry categories including: agriculture, technology, professional services, commercial real estate, health care, nonprofits, forest products, financial services and traditional manufacturing.

It is obvious to those who voted that Alpenrose is more than just a dairy. You need to look at Alpenrose history to understand their culture. In the 19th century, the rolling hills southwest of Portland were dotted with dairies largely operated by Swiss and Dutch immigrants. One of these pioneer dairymen was Florian Cadonau. In 1891, with an entrepreneurial spirit, he began delivering milk in three-gallon cans by horse-drawn wagon to a restaurant in downtown Portland.

Florian’s son, Henry Cadonau, married Rosina Streiff, daughter of the Swiss consul in 1916. Rosina named the business Alpenrose Dairy, after Switzerland’s national mountain flower that bloomed in the Swiss Alps.

In 1918, the Cadonau’s purchased a four-year-old Ford touring car and converted it into a delivery truck for the dairy’s growing list of customers. By 1922, Henry and Rosina had taken over full ownership of the business and things began to happen. In 1951, there were 64 retail routes and by 1961, that number had doubled, not counting the dairy’s 32 wholesale routes.

Before Kevin Costner starred in “Field Of Dreams,” Henry Cadonau had a vision and built a baseball diamond in the backyard for the grandkids. Since then, kids from down the street and around the world have played ball at Alpenrose Park.

Nearby is Alpenrose Velodrome, a high-banked, Olympic-style bicycle racing track. The velodrome is one of only 20 professional tracks in the U.S. and has been host to both national and international events. While Cadonau loved cows, his son-in-law, Ray Birkland loved cars. In 1950, he built a Quarter Midget racing track for the kids. He became a member of Quarter Midgets of America, and started sponsoring races at the track, which was paved six years later.

With an eye on history, Alpenrose created Dairyville, where families can stroll through a replica of a Western frontier town. It’s a fun, educational way to see how life used to be, with false-front shops, old ice cream parlors, antiques and other reminders of a remote era. Best of all, it’s free.

Alpenrose Dairy provides Oregon and SW Washington with fresh locally produced products such as: cultured, fluid, organic milk; cottage cheese, sour cream, egg nog, and ice cream. But also extremely important in the company’s success has been its role in supporting the local community. For decades, Alpenrose has been the host to several local events, including the popular Alpenrose Easter Egg Hunt, Velodrome Challenge and the Girls Little League World Series, to name a few.

Dairy producers everywhere can learn from the Alpenrose Dairy story and focus not only on producing great dairy products, but also on being even greater neighbors.

One Comment on “Opinions & Sacred Cows: Alpenrose Dairy in Oregon spotlight”

  • Rolland Rosa January 20th, 2010 9:04 pm

    Dear Editor,
    I was quite surprised to see your article on Alpenrose Dairy today. Just yesterday I was jumping around the Internet and landed on their website. I had been before but I find their story so interesting that I email my brother in Oregon for more information. He said they were a very highly respected player in the Salem-Portland fluid milk market.
    Rolland Rosa