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wade's dairy history

History of Wade's Dairy

Earlier Days

The origin of Wade's Dairy dates back to the late 1800s in the small, rural town of Easton, Connecticut. Our great-grandfather Frank Henry Wade began peddling milk in 1884 at the age of sixteen. In 1893, having acquired his own herd, Frank started his own business with a daily routine of milking cows and delivering milk house to house in his horse and wagon. In 1907 Frank sold the farmland and relocated his herd to Greenfield Hills in Fairfield, Connecticut. Four years later, in 1911, he sold his herd and established a plant for the pasteurizing, bottling and distribution of milk. Frank bought the raw product from farmers in Easton and Fairfield, bottled under the label F. H. Wade Dairy, and continued his home delivery routes. In 1916, Frank bought his first auto truck,and his business continued to grow and prosper.

Frank's sons Howard and John followed in their father's footsteps. After starting his own family, Howard built a small pasteurizing plant behind his home on Bungalow Avenue in the town of Fairfield, built up home delivery routes of his own, and bottled milk under the label of H. F. Wade Dairy. John continued with his father and peddled milk on one of the six routes selling product bottled at Frank's plant. When Frank retired in 1933, he turned over to Howard the processing end of the business and to John the home delivery end of the business. Howard's processing volume and home delivery routes continued to grow under the new label of Wade's Dairy, and the plant was expanded and modernized in 1949. During the 1950s John retired and Howard purchased from hisbrother the additional home delivery routes.

The business reached a plateau in the early 1960s when Howard and hissons, Ray, Harvey, Donald and Douglas, were serving three thousand home delivery customers in Fairfield County. The company hired Billy Bell, a full-time mechanic for servicing the plant refrigeration and fleet of trucks, and the plant was again modernized in 1964, with an expansion that included a mechanic's bay. The four sons and many of their own children participated in the operation of the business, and the third generation of Wades assumed management of the company upon the retirement of Howard in the mid-sixties. Although the business had been comfortably successful, home delivery began a slow decline in the late sixties when supermarkets and convenience stores started selling milk as a loss leader,and the dairy's customer base lost ground to the competition.


In order to maintain milk production levels with this loss of business to the stores, the third generation gambled on an experimental machine called a spin-welder in the early seventies. The spin-welder formed plastic into a bottle, filled it with milk or juice, sealed it, and automatically case-packed at very high speeds. Wade's Dairy aggressively bid local school and state contracts and was soon packaging a six-fold increase of over 100,000 half pints of milk daily. The machine was innovative, and visitors from around the world came to tour our facility.

A problem emerged, however, with the school year contracts in that plant production slowed to a crawl during summers and financial losses during these months seriously detracted from other months' gains. A solution presented itself in the opportunity to package a fruit drink called Bingo during the warmer weather. Bingo proved very popular, resulting in tractor trailer shipments out of state, and the addition of second shift production during the late spring months to meet demand. This nighttime production strained relations with neighbors in the residential neighborhood, and in 1973 production of Bingo ceased due to its classification by the Town of Fairfield as non-conforming use of the dairy plant. Although the spin-welder continued its success with milk production, the loss of the fruit drink production lessened a competitive edge we had come to enjoy. When the Arab oil embargo came into play in the late '70s the price of plastic skyrocketed, causing the cost of the plastic container to far exceed that of paper. Our competitive edge then completely disappeared.

A Change of Operation

In the 1980s Wade's Dairy focused on wholesale, school and food service trade; watched home delivery continue to decline; and began the first of many relationships with computerization. Ray, Harvey and Don had since retired from the business; and Don's son David, and Doug's son Douglas, Jr. and daughter Susan, assumed control of the business upon Doug Sr's retirement in 1984. As one of the last small milk plants operating in the state, Wade's Dairy faced a dwindling milk supply as well as a diminishing ability to maintain market share among the larger competition. The new partners planned a major transition, and in June 1987 the processing plant operated for the final time, redirecting management's efforts into warehousing and distribution. Experiments with new products ensued, including eggs, butter, cheeses and yogurts; and by the late '80s fluid milk accounted for 65% of the dairy's sales volume, as compared with 90% during the '70s. Several years passed as the business stabilized in its new focus, seeking its own niche in the marketplace.

In the late '80s, Wade's Dairy found itself in the enviable position of having several dairies bid against each other to provide our milk products. The ensuing change to a new supplier in the early '90s afforded Wade's Dairy benefits including increased sales, greater profits, and less reliance upon the uncertainty of bid business. The installation of a network computer system also proved instrumental in the rebuilding and expansion of the business, and management considered the move of operations from the residential neighborhood in Fairfield to a location where the business could continue to grow. Shortly after relocating, temporarily, to Madison Avenue in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the former Dewhirst Dairy site, we made the decision to cease our home delivery operations. Times change and we knew for our future, we too had to change with the times.

With a renewed focus on our wholesale business, the expansion of the product line during the early '90s included ventures into fresh pasta, upscale desserts, fruit purees, sorbets, and muffin mixes. Also during this time, Wade's Dairy purchased another dairy distributor, substantially increasing its customer base and annual sales volume. A dramatic increase over a five year period nearly tripled annual sales volume, and the future looked bright.

The rapid expansion, however, led to increasing inefficiencies of operation; and the increasing payroll and need for greater storage facilities prompted a renewed search for relocation options. In 1995 property in Bridgeport was purchased, and planning commenced for the conversion of the former Hannan Lumber Yard to meet the needs of a refrigerated warehouse and distribution center.

Corporate Headquarters

In April 1996 the offices of Wade's Dairy relocated to the newly renovated facilities on Barnum Avenue in Bridgeport. Warehouse and loading operations continued at the Dewhirst facility until final relocation to Barnum Avenue in August 1996. The new facility provided greatly expanded office and warehouse space on an industrial tract of property in a part of the city experiencing economic growth. Wade's Dairy could at long last operate without constraint, and operations expanded to 24 hours with receiving and loading through the evenings.

The late nineties brought changes including fleet modernization, a major computer conversion, and product expansion into ice cream, cookies, brownies, coffee cakes, and soups. Personnel expanded in customer relations, accounting, credit, sales, delivery, warehouse, and human resources; the dairy purchased another distributor; and the customer base reached a peak of one thousand wholesale accounts. Managerial consultants were retained to thoroughly examine the business and help the fourth generation of Wades erect a corporate structure and plan for the company's third century of business.

The New Millenium

In the year 2000 our focus is toward the new, with respect for our company's history and admiration for our forebears. We continue to underscore customer service as the trademark by which we make our name known, following the tradition of our fathers' and grandfather's home delivery motto, "Let our family serve yours!" We have entered the global neighborhood via the Internet, something our fathers, grandfather and great-grandfather never imagined. We have published our first bi-annual magazine highlighting their accomplishments, in which we take great pride, as well as our own vision for the future of our own families, our business, and the industry. And we continue to explore new ways to include both our customers and our employees in the success of our business, something our family taught us early on. We're grateful for the opportunities their hard work afforded us, we plan to continue honoring the traditions they established, and we very much appreciate your interest in our family business, Wade's Dairy!

Douglas H. Wade, Jr.
David L. Wade
Susan Wade Warner