Happy Days Dairies Ltd.
More than 20 years ago, Donat Koller and his wife, Jasmine, came to scenic Salmon Arm, British Columbia, where they started a small goat farm. Originally from Switzerland, Koller learned the cheesemaking craft at an early age. He brought this passion for the dairy business with him in hopes of starting an artisan cheesemaking business. In 1993, his vision came to life and Happy Days Dairies Ltd. was born.
What started as a small family farm and cheesemaking operation in Salmon Arm, supplying local customers and stores in Okanagan, has now grown into the largest processor of all-natural goat milk products in western Canada. “Happy Days supplies all major retailers from Vancouver Island to Manitoba with bottled goat milk,” says Koller, founder, CEO and president of Happy Days.
Today, the company has contract farmers throughout British Columbia and Alberta, all dedicated to the same purpose: producing high-quality, healthy and great tasting goat and cow’s milk products in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.
“When we first came to British Columbia, there weren’t many specialty cheesemakers,” says Koller. Although the demand for goat milk products has grown significantly in recent years, Happy Days has remained true to its roots, keeping things simple and local, and taking great pride in serving customers close to home with the freshest goat milk products possible.
Close to home
Happy Days’ main CFIA-certified production facility is still located in Salmon Arm, but the company also has operations in communities across western Canada. “Today, we have three processing plants and 12 local goat milk producers throughout Alberta and British Columbia,” says Koller. “The company has grown by more than a hundredfold in the last decade, but our purpose remains the same: to produce high-quality, locally made products.”
Koller maintains tight-knit relationships with all 12 producers. “I work closely with all of our farmers,” he says. “We host annual meetings and discuss any business issues.”
Many of Happy Days’ farmers are also of Swiss or Dutch descent like Koller. “About 80 percent of our farmers have a Dutch or Swiss background,” he says. “Mostly because these countries are strong in dairy production; it is a skill and a passion for them.”
“Most of our farmers are also below the age of 40,” he adds. “Not all of them, but this is an interesting point in the return of youth on farms. Young people are realizing the value in the dairy business and taking over the family farm. It’s a steady industry, in which you have income year-round.”
With a trusted team of producers, Happy Days is highly vertically integrated, performing all of the production and cheese processing in-house. As more consumers push to better understand the origins of their food, keeping things in-house and on a local level is even more pertinent to business, says Koller. “For us, customers come first,” he says. “We want them to be happy with the product and also have the knowledge of where it’s produced. We extend the opportunity for customers to come visit our farms and production facilities for this reason.”
“We also want our customers to know that the travel time from the place of production to the table is as short as possible at Happy Days,” he adds.
Savoring excellence with an artisan approach
Happy Days is proud to produce premium quality, 100 percent Canadian goat and organic cow products, which Koller says starts with giving the animals the best care. “Each one of our dairy farmers is committed to treating their animals humanely with clean bedding, dry and warm shelter, open air barns, access to the outdoors, pastures, fresh and clean air, high-quality nutritious and natural food and clean and fresh water,” he says. “We encourage our goats and cows to engage in their natural behavior by placing them in social groups where they can live in a herd to run and play. We care deeply about cows and goats and you can tell with the quality of our products.”
The company’s line of products includes a wide variety of goat milk cheeses, goat milk yogurts, fluid goat milk and milk powder, as well as a full line of organic cheese made with 100 percent Canadian cow milk. “When we launched Happy Days, our main product was fresh goat milk, but with such success business has steadily expanded into all kinds of cheese production,” explains Koller.
Some of the company’s most popular items are goat’s milk cheddar, Gouda, feta crumbles and mozzarella, as well as yogurt and kefir beverages. Happy Days also takes its signature goat cheese logs and bricks and adds seasonings to create unique and savory flavor profiles such as lemon pepper, garlic parsley and rosemary olive oil.
In case a customer cannot decide on a few delicious items, the company has created a delectable sample of seasonal cheese bundle packages featuring cheeses handmade in Salmon Arm. A sample bundle includes mild flavored organic cow's milk Gouda, rustic and earthy organic cow's milk Brie, award-winning soft Okanagan goat cheese and more.
Business continues to swell as the company grows to supply to a range of local, independent grocery stores, specialty food stores and larger retailers such as Safeway and Overwaitea Foods. But even through expansion, Koller says Happy Days Dairies Ltd.’s mission of being a local producer focused on premium quality remains the heart and soul of the operation.