Age: I’m 61, but feel 39
Location: Riverdale, California
My dairy’s history: My grandfather, A. F. Mendes, started dairying in about 1917 after working a short while as a milker. He owned dairies in various locations near Riverdale during the 1920s. He started the dairy at our current location in 1937.
In 1961, he sold his interest to four of his six children. Between 1980 and 2005, the family underwent various reorganizations resulting in three separate dairy farms.
My parents and I each acquired 50 percent of the current A. F. Mendes, Inc. in 2005. My son Paul is the fourth generation of dairy farmers in our family.
If I wasn’t a dairyman, I would be … a conflict resolver. I would probably have been some type of dispute arbiter.
I have been a member of the Beef Board for … Challenge Dairy for the lifetime of our family dairy, which is more than 80 years old. I was born into Challenge. My grandfather, A.F. Mendes, became a member of Riverdale Cooperative Creamery, a founding member of Challenge, sometime in the 1920s.
After Danish Creamery Association acquired Riverdale Cooperative in 1930, A. F. Mendes became a member. In 1977, my father, Tony R. Mendes, a board member of Danish Creamery at the time, was appointed to represent the cooperative in the creation of the new Challenge Dairy Products, Inc.
Dad served on the Challenge board for 13 years, five of those as chairman. In 1995, I joined the board of directors and served until shortly after the merger of Danish Creamery into the now-California Dairies, Inc.
I joined this co-op because … As mentioned above, I was born into Challenge Dairy. I’ve never considered leaving because it has provided our family with a quality of life that I would not trade for anything. In a sense, Challenge is my extended family. It’s just that kind of an organization.
A little-known fact about Challenge Dairy is … that I believe the secret to its success has been the quality of individuals chosen to lead its various divisions and its mission to provide the highest quality products to its consumers. The fact that Challenge Butter is celebrating its 100th anniversary is a testament to this.
The hard work of Challenge’s leaders and producers has contributed to the organization’s success and place in the history books.
My favorite co-op representative/friend is … in the past, John Whetten; in the present, Irv Holmes. John’s ability to sell dairy products is legendary. His ability to sell the value of the “branded business” and Challenge to its dairymen owners was valued and appreciated. He earned the respect of all who dealt with him and he returned that respect in many ways.
Irv had to follow in his footsteps as a strong, proven leader, and he has by incorporating what was already successful and adding his own style of leadership. He came into his role just as the entire dairy industry, and CDI in particular, was undergoing major transformations.
He has seized the moment, achieving levels of success, especially internationally, that were not foreseen. And not only has he earned the respect of those within Challenge, but also has earned and returned the respect of dairy industry leaders worldwide.
What Challenge Dairy does best is … successfully market its products. Thank goodness most of them are dairy products. Challenge has built a reputation with consumers and retailers for providing the best and is adamant on maintaining it.
That trust has enabled Challenge to easily sell its products without a question of their quality. It’s the reason Challenge Butter is now celebrating 100 years and has become the largest butter brand in the West.
I feel valued as a member when … CDPI takes the quality ingredients that I have worked so hard to produce and puts its heart and soul into marketing and distributing them to provide a handsome ROI each year.
They have three areas of focus: the producers so that our products can be the best; the retail and food distribution partners so that they receive the best; and the consumers so they can enjoy the best. All are of equal importance and Challenge treats each with the utmost care and attention.
I hope my dairy legacy is … that I made a positive contribution to California’s dairy industry as an effective leader who could effectuate change.
If I were running Challenge Dairy, I would … expand our international presence in more products and with greater distribution. Of course, this would be accomplished with minimum additional financing from our producer owners. PD
Year Organized 1911
• Challenge Butter was founded 100 years ago, with four employees and a wagon (a horse had to be rented to pull it!)
• Producer of the #1 branded butter company in the West, Challenge Butter
• First major butter brand to go rbST-Free
• Lead dairy foodservice provider in California
• Inventor of the first metal churn in the world, which soon became an industry standard
• Introduced practice of lab sampling of all butter to ensure quality
• Introduced shipping butter in paper packaging rather than wooden crates
• Introduced the ½-gallon carton of milk instead of quart cartons