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Cornell pennant and Marlo Perry in Perry's Ice Cream company history collage

Marlo Perry '35 and a Cornell pennant are part of this pictured history of Perry's Ice Cream. Image provided by Perry's.

Perry's Ice Cream and Cornell sweeten upstate New York's dairy future

When the Cornell dairy plant was demolished last year to make way for a new, improved Stocking Hall facility, Akron, N.Y.-based ice cream company Perry's was the immediate choice to supply the Cornell campus with the frosty treat.

Brian Perry with ice cream cone

Brian Perry, executive vice president and vice chairman of Perry's Ice Cream. Photo provided by Perry's.

The Perry family connection to Cornell goes back generations, when Marlo Perry '35 took knowledge acquired in his dairy science classes back to the family dairy to help his father, Morton, expand the ice cream business he had started in 1932.

The business began as a milk delivery service in 1918. Since then, the family's entrepreneurial spirit has taken the company into 13 different businesses in its 95 years. Today it produces private label brands for Wegmans Food Markets, Olean Wholesale (Shurfine) and Winn-Dixie. It is an international Fortune 500 company owned by the fourth generation of Perrys. Brian Perry is executive vice president and vice chairman, his brother-in-law Bob Denning serves as president and CEO, and his sister Gayle Perry Denning is director of sustainability. The trio are not only focused on expanding the core ice cream brand outside New York but also on building the private label business and diversifying.

In 2007, Perry's invested more than $9 million in new equipment, production lines and a frozen warehouse. This plant expansion allowed the company to distribute products to stores for other ice cream and frozen food makers, as well as for Tastykake and Utz.

"We had to take a leap of faith and take advantage of opportunities. You're always looking for ways to leverage your overhead. Once you do one or two new businesses, you get over the fear of trying it," says Brian Perry.

Marlo Perry dairy science exam

A Cornell dairy science exam taken by Marlo Perry '35. Photo provided by Perry's.

Marlo was the first Perry to turn to Cornell for its dairy expertise. Since then, Perry's has relied on Cornell to provide its employees with regular training and certification in dairy foods processing, high-temperature, short-time (HTST) pasteurization, sanitation and food safety. Perry's also is supporting Cornell's development of a food processing technology degree program in partnership with Genesee Community College to further develop the New York dairy workforce.

"My grandfather's Cornell education and the connections he made there were instrumental at that time in helping a relatively new product, and business, succeed. If you put all the pieces together, we continue to work with Cornell a lot today," Brian Perry says.

Supplying the campus with ice cream, and consulting with Cornell dairy plant manager Jason Huck on plant design and processes, also has been a touching experience for Perry: "It will be kind of bittersweet when the new plant opens. But I see an ongoing relationship here and I can't wait for the ribbon-cutting."

Renovated dairy plant on track

Dairy Plant renovation project illuminated at night

At night, blue illumination now bathes the Stocking Hall / Food Science renovation project at Tower and Judd Falls roads. When complete, visitors will have the opportunity to stroll along the "Dairy Walk" outside the glass curtain wall to observe processing operations or visit the Dairy Observation Gallery on the second floor to observe the process from above and learn more about the production of the plant's dairy products, from cow to cone. Photo: Joe Wilensky

According to Huck, the first phase of the $105 million renovation of Stocking Hall will be complete by late spring, with dairy plant personnel expected to move back into Stocking Hall around May 20; ice cream will begin to be produced in the new dairy plant sometime in June. Cornell Ice Cream won't be served, though, until the Dairy Bar's grand opening event, set for the beginning of the fall 2013 semester, Huck says, which will give the new facility the chance to build up its inventory.

The Cornell Dairy Plant therefore will continue to partner with Perry's Ice Cream throughout the summer, Huck says, to supply premium New York state ice cream to the Dairy Bar scoop shop.

Perry is already planning for the upcoming transition. He'd like to help bring allergen production scheduling to Cornell's food safety curriculum, and views Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) as a strategic partner in helping Perry's position food manufacturing as a viable career for young, potential employees in the region.

"It's been an honor for Cornell to collaborate with Perry's over the past 80 years. More recently, Perry's input into redesigning the Stocking Hall dairy plant has been indispensable," says Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "These new facilities will directly benefit Perry's and our other dairy industry partners. And in turn, these companies allow CALS to extend its reach further and do more to bolster New York's recent dairy boom and its successful expansion."

Sarah Thompson is a freelance writer based in Trumansburg, N.Y.

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