April 30, 2021 – Sally Crane Jones’ pork sausage recipe with three ingredients has withstood the test of time spanning three centuries. First produced and sold commercially in 1889 by Milo Jones, Sally’s son, from his family’s dairy farm in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, today the sixth and seventh generations of the family are guiding the company from the same location using exactly the same recipe. Philip Jones, President and CEO of Jones Dairy Farm, professionally-trained chef and Chaîne member, is leading the business family with the same commitment to excellence his ancestors adopted. And after returning to the farm and business from a career in finance with Fortune 500 companies, Lisa Caras, Philip’s stepdaughter, represents the seventh generation actively involved in management.
“A seventh generation family business has had to pivot more than seven times. Every generation has had to deal with their own set of issues and challenges in building a business, managing a business, growing a business, and yet, at the same time there is that common thread of commitment to quality, customer service and innovation,” Philip said to Chaîne during a March 10, 2021 telephone interview.
Six Generations of Jones Dairy Farm Leadership
According to Grand Valley State University’s Family Owned Business Institute, there are 5.5 million family owned businesses in the United States employing 63 percent of the total workforce.
However, less than two-thirds of family owned businesses last through two generations and a very small percentage last through four generations. Jones Dairy Farm is a rare success story still going strong into the seventh generation. And there is an eighth generation!
Philip credits the company’s insightful outside council and the family’s deep commitment to its heritage as its “magic sauce.”
“We’re no different than any other family. We agree on things. We disagree on things. But there is a common thread of commitment to the heritage and the pride that comes along with such an amazing American story,” Philip said.
Three ingredients – pork, salt and spices – still comprise the list of ingredients on its breakfast sausage famous far and wide. Pork sausage forms the bedrock of the company but over the years, ham and bacon products have been added. No binders, fillers or MSG are used, a decision made many years ago to maintain the highest quality, which also means Jones Dairy Farm products are free of Big 8 allergens and are gluten-free.
As Jones Dairy Farm Marketing Manager, Lisa has recently focused on Japan as an emerging market for a few of their products. Thick-sliced bacon is popular in Japan and known as “American style” bacon. With her extensive work experience outside of the company, she feels she can make a difference. “I care so much about this company and the family,” Lisa said to Chaîne during a March 10, 2021 telephone interview.
Four members of the Jones family are actively involved in the business today. Family gatherings are still held at the farmhouse pictured on their logo, a source of pride because of its deep connection to previous generations. In a video posted on their website, Philip explains that 98 percent of the company’s products are produced today within one mile of the farmhouse. That fact alone makes Jones Dairy Farm one of just a few companies that can likely claim local continuity for more than 125 years.
Important to the business has been the family’s emphasis on education and work experience. All family members are encouraged to pursue their passion with education and experience outside of the company and if a job opening occurs at Jones Dairy Farm for which they are qualified, they can apply for the position.
Lisa epitomizes that career path. After high school, Philip encouraged her to leave the nest and explore the world. With an undergraduate degree from Miami University in Ohio, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from New York University, time studying abroad in Paris, and eight years of work experience that included extensive travel with Intel and IBM Consulting, she brings a valued skill set to the family business.
“Anybody would hire this young lady for her talents and abilities. She can go anywhere and write her own ticket. We’re very fortunate to have her here with us,” Philip said.
Lisa said she knew she would one day return to her Wisconsin roots.
Lisa’s job experience began at a local ice cream parlor when she was a teenager. It was her dream job, but after applying the owner said he was not hiring. She persisted, going back three or four more times to inquire about a job. The owner finally hired her even though he did not have an urgent need to fill a position. Her life lessons are relevant to all young people. “Be persistent, have an open mindset and be adaptable. At the end of the day – and I say this to my team – a positive attitude goes a long way,” Lisa said.
Jones Dairy Farm Support for Young Chefs
Jones Dairy Farm has long been a supporter of young chefs, culinary schools and culinary programs both nationally and locally. The company has awarded more than 100 scholarships to high school students and youth enrolled in culinary programs. ‘Jones Scholars’ are a source of pride for the company. “When you become a Jones Scholar, you become part of the family,” Lisa said.
Philip emphasizes how important it is that youth today are energized to make positive changes to the food service industry with so many new ways of contributing to the industry.
“We do support young culinarians because once you have a skill and an education, that’s something nobody can ever take away from you. That’s an opportunity that opens doors to a multitude of careers. I am one example of that,” Philip said.
Jones Dairy Farm is supporting the Chaîne’s Young Chefs Competition. Philip’s grandfather was a Chaîne member and they share the same Maitre Restaurateur Ribbon, Philip noted.
“I want to give Reimund Pitz recognition here for getting me involved in the Chaîne and introducing me to the young chefs in the Chaîne.” Philip said. “I admire the fact there is a highly structured, regimented rules of the road for young people because becoming a chef is about organization, discipline and following processes. It’s not for the faint at heart. Chef Pitz has built a wonderful foundation.”
Organization and discipline were key attributes that enabled so many people to rise to the challenge the pandemic threw at everyone last year. Jones Dairy Farm was no exception although their decades long commitment to food safety and cleanliness helped them adapt quickly. Philip remembers walking through the plant as a young teenager with his grandfather. His grandfather told him without a clean plant, they had nothing to sell.
Philip believes the work of his father, uncles, grandfather and previous generations gave him the tools to lead the company through the pandemic although it was not without stress. “I think it took about three years off my life,” Philip said with a respectful chuckle. “There is no script for something like this.” The company wrote their own script that will no doubt be remembered for years to come. Management and the Board of Directors decided early on to give their 500 employees financial security by not eliminating one person’s job.
Now more than ever, customers need to have faith in the products they consume, Philip explained. With a small niche of the food industry and the company’s long history of commitment to high quality products, Philip said Jones Dairy Farm strives daily to be transparent and authentic for their customers, a valuable lesson family owned business founders who have dreams of lasting through seven or more generations would be wise to learn.
“And it doesn’t matter if it’s a widget or a sausage,” Philip said.