February 2019 Issue: Cream of the Crop

Cream of the Crop

Springing from pastoral roots, Byrne Dairy has grown to be a household name in this part of Upstate New York. Now with an aggressive expansion plan in full swing, the homespun convenience chain is adding a robust foodservice platform to the menu.

Mark Byrne, CEO and president of Sonbyrne Sales Inc., watched a customer move to the register to purchase three containers of milk.

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Sonbyrne is the retail arm of Byrne Dairy, a fourth-generation family business based in Syracuse, N.Y. Area residents are probably more familiar with its convenience brand: Byrne Dairy Stores.

This day, the customer was shopping at one of the company’s new prototypes—a 4,400 square-foot store that opened July 2018 in the town of Geddes, near the western border of Syracuse and a short distance from the Great New York State Fairgrounds.

Shifting his gaze to store employees who were busy at the store’s deli counter, Byrne explained the woman represents a typical customer of the convenience chain.

“We’re a destination,” Byrne said. “Some people might drive 10 miles to get our ice cream or our milk products. That’s our biggest advantage: our dairy products. A lot of the schools have our milk, so kids grow up on it. Not to mention, our stores have been around for more than 50 years.”

Whether you are coming off a highway in greater Syracuse, or visiting one of the smaller communities located around the Finger Lakes region, most people can direct you to one of the company’s 59 store locations—many of the newer stores are topped off by striking green roofs, making them appear like farm buildings.

The new stores—the interiors and floor plans are often laid out by the CEO himself—reflect the proud local industry that thrives here. According to the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, agriculture is a crown jewel for the Finger Lakes regional economy in particular. There are nearly 1.5 million acres of farmland in the region, where farmers produce approximately a quarter of New York’s total agricultural output.

Moreover, the stores amplify the partnership that Byrne Dairy enjoys with area farmers. Some of the biggest farms in the region supply milk to the company’s expansive dairy operation. In turn, farm workers frequent Byrne Dairy Store locations to fill up on the various flavors of ice cream made locally, or the meaty sandwiches that are constructed in one if its growing number of delis, or just to pick up a carton of eggs.

Byrne agrees there’s a happy synergy at work.

Perhaps more importantly, this same synergy has made the family business a profitable enterprise. As the chain develops a more robust foodservice model, growth is in the cards.