Wade’s Company Profile
Wade’s Dairy Mission
Wade’s distributes the highest quality dairy and complementary food products to the Southern New England food service industry.
- Gain the confidence and loyalty of our customers by providing professional service personalized to their individual needs.
- Be chosen by all our customers as their primary provider within our extensive line of competitively priced, refrigerated and frozen foods.
- Direct a profitable, thriving business that combines the talents of our team with the experience of five generations to promote the growth and success of our customers, employees, and suppliers.
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 1904 Frank left Easton and moved his herd to Greenfield Hills in Fairfield, CT. Four years later, Frank sold his herd of cows and established a dairy processing plant for the pasteurizing, bottling and distribution of milk. Frank now sold his pasteurized milk in modern glass bottles that were labeled F. H. Wade. Frank bought his first auto truck in 1916 and he retired his horse and buggy as he grew his business with the help of his two sons Howard and John.
Howard Wade struck off on his own to start his family five miles down the road from his family’s business. Howard followed in his father’s footsteps and built a small pasteurizing dairy plant behind his home on Bungalow Avenue in Fairfield in 1918. Howard grew his business and also had two trucks making home delivery of bottled milk under the label of H.F. Wade. His younger brother, John continued working with his father until his father retired in 1933. The two brothers came back together and formed Wade’s Dairy upon their father’s retirement. Home delivery of milk became very popular as fewer people were farming for a living. The two brothers grew the business and set the stage for the third generation to take over. The processing plant was expanded and modernized in 1949. Howard had four sons who worked with him and eventually took over the management of Wade’s Dairy when Howard passed in 1967. Harvey, Raymond, Donald and Doug had their work cut out for them as home delivery was soon to go out of fashion.
Wade’s Dairy was serving three thousand home delivery customers and had twelve Divco home delivery vehicles on the road six days per week in the early 1960’s. Howard hired a young mechanic named William (Billy) Bell in 1962 to service our fleet of trucks on site. He soon became a jack of all trades and learned all the ins and outs of maintaining our refrigeration equipment and our fleet. There were some very long hours especially when chains had to be put on all of the trucks due to snow storms. The plant was modernized several more times including an expanded mechanics bay.
The tide began to turn rapidly when Cumberland Farms came out with a concept of pricing milk as a loss leader to bring shoppers into their stores and almost overnight the home delivery industry was under seige. There were more than one hundred dairies operating in Connecticut in 1965 and by 1980 there were fewer than eight. You didn’t survive if you didn’t shift gears and reinvent your business model.
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 1970’s. The spin-welder spun a plastic top and a bottom to form a bottle, fill it with milk or juice, seal it, and automatically case-pack at high speeds (300 per minute). 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 ahead of it’s time and very innovative. We had visitors come from Japan to see this fabulous machine.
The problem with school business is the seasonality factor. There’s no business during vacations and the summer months. 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 1970’s the price of plastic skyrocketed, causing the cost of the plastic container to far exceed that of paper. Our competitive edge then completely disappeared.
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 1980’s fluid milk accounted for 65% of the dairy’s sales volume, as compared with 90% during the 1970’s. Several years passed as the business stabilized in its new focus, seeking its own niche in the marketplace.
In the late 1980’s, 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 1990’s 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. We had delivered to homes for ninety nine years and we knew its time had past.
With a renewed focus on our wholesale business, the expansion of the product line during the early 1990’s 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.
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.
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.