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United Dairy produces holiday treat in Martins Ferry

By JANELLE HUNTER

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

MARTINS FERRY, Ohio — Eggnog is seasonally produced by Martins Ferry’s United Dairy and shipped across the region to cater to those who enjoy the traditional holiday drink.

United Dairy quart machine operator Jeremy Thompson oversees production of eggnog at the Martins Ferry, Ohio, plant on Fifth Street.
(Submitted photo)
United Dairy has three plants in operation — the original plant in Martins Ferry, a plant in Charleston, W.Va., and a plant in Uniontown, Pa. The West Virginia and Pennsylvania plants were added to the company in 1996 and 2007, respectively. In addition to its regular milk production for grocery stores, the Martins Ferry plant produces more than 2 million half-pints of school milk per week for student lunches in school districts across Ohio, including Columbus City Schools, and also provides milk for several prisons.

Plant Manager Tadd Stephens said the company produced a total of 214,910 gallons of egg nog during the 2016 holiday season and expects to produce about the same amount this year.

“We ship to a lot of states. We do a bunch of eggnog at our Uniontown plant for Costco. We did 33 tractor-trailer loads of eggnog that go to Costco in Florida, Georgia and all the way up the East Coast — 130,568 gallons were produced in Uniontown in 2016, and 27,476 gallons were produced in Charleston. And 56,866 gallons were produced here in Martins Ferry,” he said.

Stephens said the numbers stay fairly consistent with sales of eggnog from year to year, with the demand for the product being reliable. Being a specialty drink, with more ingredients and with a more labor-intensive process, the dairy can sell the product at a higher price than its other dairy beverages.

“It will always be higher than milk, because there is butterfat and cream — about 6 percent. Whenever you put cream in anything, it will be more expensive because it is more costly to produce,” Stephens noted. “And we also have to buy the eggnog flavoring and eggnog powder, which is powdered eggs. It’s a lot easier to make. Instead of taking eggs down there and cracking them on the vats, they make it into a powdered egg form. We mix the milk, cream, egg powder, flavoring and sugar in the vats, homogenize and pasteurize, then bottle everything.”

The plant has been producing eggnog for as long as Stephens has been at the plant — the last 22 years. And he said each year, the production of eggnog seems to start earlier.

“We used to start with the goal of having it in the stores by Halloween every year, but that was about 15 years ago,” Stephens said. “We ran our first batch of eggnog on Oct. 12 this year. And we had customers wanting it that early. I think customers just can’t wait until they see it for the first time.”

Stephens said the company’s goal is to time the last production of the holiday drink so it runs out the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve because demand for it drops sharply after the new year.

“We want to try to slowly run out of it because nobody will buy it then. If we’re not careful, we can get stuck with a lot that we can’t sell,” Stephens noted. “We give it away to a soup kitchen in that case. We did try to freeze it one year, and it just doesn’t turn out very well when you try to freeze it.”

The week before Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas are the busiest production weeks of the year for eggnog.

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