By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
After 80 years, Sunshine Dairy Foods is becoming just plain Sunshine as its products evolve, but quality and good taste remain top concerns, said Dirk T. Davis, the CEO of the family-owned business at 801 N.E. 21st Ave.
A Greek restaurateur, John Karamanos, started a dairy delivery service for his friends in Portland’s food industry in the mid-1930s, and restaurants, bakeries, hospitals, retailers and local colleges remain the company’s major customers.
The Sunshine company continues under ownership of John Karamanos’ great-grandsons who sit on the board of directors while a team of managers handles day-to-day operations.
Changes to the business are coming with changes in consumer demands, Davis said. For instance, he said, “People are drinking less and less dairy, so we’ve got to find ways to be relevant.”
One way is to create soy and coconut yogurts at Sunshine’s yogurt processing facility at Northeast 84th Avenue and Halsey Street.
Sunshine also is continuing to pair with local businesses to provide milk for specialty items. One of the latest is Stumptown’s Cold Brew of coffee and milk. Patrons of the Portland coffee roaster’s cafes can buy cartons of cold brewed coffee with Sunshine milk. The cold brew is coffee that has steeped for 16 hours, Davis explained. That enhances taste and, incidentally, the caffeine. Stumptown realized most of its cafe customers add milk to the cold brew. To make it convenient for them to take the drink home, Stumptown and Sunshine combined their products in a carton available at Stumptown cafes, Davis said.
Another new product is real cream with flavors that make coffee or tea taste like a drink whipped up by a barista. The 8-ounce cartons of cream have flavors of Mayan chocolate, salted caramel and “vanilla stout.” They will be available in several grocery stores that already carry Sunshine products, including New Seasons, Whole Foods, Green Zebra, Alberta Co-op, People’s Co-op and Food Front. They will be Sunshine’s first items to appear in many Fred Meyer stores.
Organic milk is another product gaining favor among health-conscious consumers, according to Davis and Rob Johnson, director of revenue operations. Sunshine, with certification by Oregon Tilth, buys from dairy farmers who adhere to certain farming and animal care practices. These include pastures free from pesticides and cows that spend more time in the pasture than is the case on conventional farms, Johnson said.
Because of the founder’s contacts in the food industry, Davis said, Sunshine continues to provide specialty items to specific businesses. These include the milkshake mix for Burgerville outlets.
Sunshine milk has a fresh, sweet flavor that isn’t characteristic of many other processors’ products, Davis and Johnson said. The Northeast plant, with gigantic vats and hundreds of feet of production lines, uses a cold bowl separation process, the men explained. It takes longer than the ultra high temperature process, Davis said. However, Sunshine managers believe the process results in a better product because it is heated only at the pasteurization step.
“The taste is clean, fresh and never over processed,” Davis said.
The flavor, Johnson said, is one reason Sunshine is used by some of the city’s top bakers and chefs, who believe the milk enhances their cooking and baking. The cold bowl method also means Sunshine doesn’t have a shelf life as long as milk produced with other methods, Davis said. An unopened Sunshine milk container may be good for 21 days and another milk may last nearly 90 days.
That’s one reason Sunshine’s customers are within a 300-mile radius of the Portland plant, Davis said. The milk wouldn’t do well shipped across the country.
However, he added, “Once you crack that lid, all milk lasts only about seven days.”
Around September, Davis said, Sunshine will bring out another new product. Then he stopped and wouldn’t continue describing what it will be.
He didn’t want to spoil the surprise, he said with a big smile.