Dabbling With Cultures
The story of siggi's dairy starts in New York City during the holiday season of 2004. Siggi Hilmarsson was for the first time in his life not going back to Iceland to spend the holidays with his family. Feeling homesick and missing a staple of his childhood diet, he digs up some old articles and recipes for skyr, the traditional yogurt of Iceland, sent to him by his mother. Undaunted by the articles' arcane measurement system and his total lack of relevant measuring devices, Siggi makes his first batch of skyr in his kitchen.
Making it For Real
Siggi continues to experiment with rather mixed results, but his skyr shows enough promise that he decides to move his experiments from his home kitchen to a full-scale dairy plant at Morrisville College, a local agricultural college in Upstate New York. In the spring, Siggi makes his first “professional” batch of siggi’s skyr.
Somewhat unexpectedly loaded with several hundred cups of quite delicious skyr and an all too small fridge, Siggi hurries to dole them out to friends around New York. One of them, Liz Thorpe, a dairy guru and VP at Murray’s Cheese shares with her colleagues who agree that Murray’s would stock siggi’s skyr if it were commercially available. With that, Siggi becomes certain of the product’s potential, quits his day job and with backing and support from his former professor, founds the Icelandic Milk & Skyr Corporation.
Siggi then moves the production to a dairy plant in Norwich in Chenango County, New York, where he can buy milk from local family farms that do not inject them with any type of growth hormones.
First Sales at a New York Farmers' Market
At the dairy in Norwich, Siggi perfects his procedure and creates his first yogurt flavors using subtle, not-so-sweet, all natural ingredients. From the beginning, siggi’s skyr is sweetened with not so much natural sweeteners, instead of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
In the summer, Siggi starts selling his skyr at the Real Food Market, an outdoor market in Lower Manhattan and at Murray’s Cheese in the West Village and The Market at Grand Central Terminal.
Despite the odd little hand-applied labels, siggi’s dairy is a success and frequently sells out. Recognizing that he can’t keep up with the growing demand for siggi’s using an old style, largely manual production process, Siggi raises some money from friends and family to build a more modern, higher-capacity production line.
Siggi starts buying a bunch of dairy plant equipment and as capacity gradually increases, siggi’s adds several great New York stores as customers, including Dean & Deluca in Soho, Stinky’s Cheese in Brooklyn, Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, The Bouley Bakery in Tribeca and Saxelby Cheese on the Lower East Side.
In the summer, Siggi donates some yogurt for a breakfast buffet at a weekend retreat of artists, environmentalists, journalists and biologists at an old barn in Long Island. They gave the yogurt good marks. One guest happens to work for Whole Foods Market and as word spreads to its headquarters in Texas, the natural and organic market becomes keen on stocking siggi’s dairy products.
Late in the year, siggi’s launches a new cup design that uses 40-50% less plastic than regular yogurt cups and is supported by a recyclable cardboard sleeve. Sveinn Ingimundarson is responsible for the new design!
Distribution Increases Dramatically
siggi's skyr is launched in nearly 100 Whole Foods stores on the East Coast. The Icelandic Milk & Skyr Corporation doubles in size (from two employees to four)!
With more distribution demand goes bananas and sadly, also exceeds all plans and in the summer, siggi's skyr has to close the factory temporarily to build even more capacity. While working, Siggi receives a lot of encouraging poetry from his customers, like this haiku from Stacy Prince:
- Tangy sweet mouthful
- Clean as snow and good and whole
- Pudding of my heart
In the fall, the upgrades are completed and siggi's skyr returns triumphantly to the stores and increasing distribution further West and adding some nice customers.
siggi’s Goes National
siggi’s becomes a national brand in July with the launch of Whole Foods on the West Coast. With the addition of many new retailers and our first online sales at Fresh Direct here in NYC, siggi’s launches new flavors – Vanilla, Grapefruit as well as a larger 16oz. format of our plain yogurt.
In addition to being featured on The Dr. Oz Show and on ABC News, as well as an array of magazines focusing on its nutritious and healthy attributes, Men’s Health magazine names siggi’s skyr as the Best New Dairy Product of 2009 and Health Magazine nominates siggi’s as one of 2009’s Healthiest Foods.
Sales momentum continues to build and the team expands again – we finish out the year with seven employees! Some of the country’s largest retailer’s start stocking siggi’s dairy, including Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Central Market, and H-E-B.
Later in the year, siggi’s dairy launches two new flavors with real fruit mixed in – strawberry and peach.
As the siggi’s team grows, so does our family of products! siggi’s added probiotic drinkable yogurt shots that are packed with 10 billion lactobacillus acidophilus per serving! We also added a more decadent 2% rjóma-skyr line, which is skyr with a touch of cream added, in Coconut, Plain and Mango-Pineapple.
We start the year off with amazing new partnerships with Target and Safeway. siggi’s dairy introduces the first filmjölk in the United States. Filmjölk is the Swedish-style drinkable yogurt that is similar to kefir. In addition to Plain, siggi’s now also offers Raspberry, Blueberry and Vanilla. Loaded with live active cultures, filmjölk can be enjoyed straight from the bottle or poured over fruit and granola.
In addition to filmjölk, siggi’s also introduces 0% Raspberry skyr.
Onwards and Upwards
siggi's makes a big move into a larger and shinier plant in Yates County in Upstate New York. Our capacity is higher and we're now able to make even more skyr. Late summer, siggi's launches our very first product just for kids – siggi's squeezable yogurt tubes.