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Blue Northern Distributing adapts to changing customers’ needs

Established milk hauler seeks continued growth

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March 18, 2024

EAU CLAIRE/SPARTA – When Andy Pritchard launched Blue Northern Distributing in 2002 with two trucks he purchased from a retiring milkman, he said he had no idea what the company would grow into.

Fast forward two-plus decades and the business – which has locations in Eau Claire (5640 Old Town Hall Road) and Sparta (11391 County Highway A) – has 18 trucks and 40 full-time and 10 part-time employees.

“We have quite the operation,” he said. “What we are today is unrecognizable from where we started.”

Pritchard said he was working as a grain harvester when he learned through a family member that a milkman was looking to sell his routes and trucks.

Interested in having his own business, Pritchard said he convinced his brother to join him in driving a truck between a dairy processor and its customers in the area.

“Back when I started, there were a lot of independent drivers who had their routes, but that does not exist much anymore,” he said. “It’s more cost-efficient with multiple trucks that can cover a larger area,” he said.

Company growth

Pritchard said a lot of the change and growth at Blue North Distributing is due to the industry itself.

The company, he said, serves as an integral link between milk processors and their customers – whether it’s schools, businesses or retailers in western Wisconsin. 

“Getting our loads delivered efficiently and on time is what we do best,” he said. “We have a broad customer base and are committed to offering our customers the best service experience.”

Pritchard said when he started, the majority of his hauls were to schools and daycares – but milk pricing changes soon meant some of these customers could buy milk cheaper at a big box retail store than directly from the processor.

That, he said, led the company to haul more products to retailers.

The growth that Blue Northern Distributing has had over the years, Pritchard said, has been organic and through acquisition by purchasing other drivers’ trucks and territories after hearing they were looking to retire.

“We have redefined ourselves – we are not milkmen but a trucking company that hauls milk,” he said.

This, Pritchard said, has opened the company up to more opportunities. 

“We can haul whatever is needed, such as helping Menards during its busy season,” he said.

Though hauling milk, Pritchard said, is still at the heart of what Blue Northern Distributing does.

Drivers visit dairy processors throughout the region and then bring their loads back to the warehouse.

There, Pritchard said, it is organized for delivery to schools and businesses.

If the processor has a large order with a retailer, Pritchard said, such as Walmart, a whole truck may be devoted to that delivery.

“My job is to keep the trucks running and my employees happy,” he said.

Distinct locations

Pritchard said each Blue Northern Distributing is distinct from each other.

The Sparta location, which was recently built, he said primarily handles an Iowa-based dairy processor and its deliveries.

The original Eau Claire location, Pritchard said, mainly handles Minnesota processors and their routes.

He said he hopes to begin building a new Eau Claire location before the end of the year.

Specifics on what that could look like are still being discussed.

Expanding services

The last 20-plus years have seen significant growth for Blue Northern Distributing.

Building on that, Pritchard said he aims for more growth in the future – specifically with its refrigerated offerings.

He said he is actively searching for other dairy hauling routes where he can use Blue Northern Distributing’s refrigerated trucks.

Pritchard said the trucks in the company’s fleet are all leased Freightliner day cabs.

From a business perspective, he said it made more sense to lease the trucks rather than purchasing them.

While much has stayed the same over the last two decades, Pritchard said much has also changed – including a continuously evolving market.

With a variety of technology advancements making their way into the agricultural and trucking industries – including artificial intelligence (AI) – he said the jury is still out on how that will impact Blue Northern Distributing.

“Business owners try to predict the future, and sometimes you get it right and sometimes not so much,” he said. “But we have to adapt and see how technology and AI will fit into our world.”

For now, Pritchard said Blue Northern Distributing will continue to do what it has been doing since 2002 – “offer our customers the best service experience.”

“Our friendly truck drivers are extensively trained to be the best in the industry,” he said.

Visit bluenortherndistributing.com for more information on Blue Northern Distributing.

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