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Anderson Erickson: The Ubiquitous Local Dairy With A Rich History

  The Anderson Erickson Dairy Cows

The Anderson Erickson Dairy Cows

Anderson Erickson, AE to us locals. The home of “Quality you can taste,” the local dairy that has “Ridiculously high standards,” the age-old dairy on East University Avenue that has those huge cows out front. All good, AE is a true Des Moines standard, but to me, AE means their chip dips, created from sour cream and some magical recipes. Ambrosia. The venerable Toasted Onion…the bright and tasty Chive…the risqué French Onion…these are at the top of my comfort foods list and are copiously representative of my childhood.  True.

Of course, my comfort foods list, quite long, seems to coincide with my “forbidden foods” list – especially when these exceptional dip varieties are exploited with salty and crunchy potato chips. But many ask, why are these chip dips, and so many other dairy products created by the ubiquitous Anderson Erickson Dairy, so good? And are they really as unique as they seem to be?  Well, I have traveled to scores of cities and states over the last five decades, and I certainly have never tasted anything like them. Family and friends who lived in or spent time in Des Moines and have scattered across the country to live in New Jersey to California / Minnesota to Southern Texas, still sing the praises of AE Dips. They regularly ask for them when they visit Des Moines; it’s almost like a cult. (“I visit all the way from San Diego, and you don’t have AE Dips?”) It’s no wonder AE has 29,000 fans on Facebook.

Well, OK, maybe AE is not all about the dips. Des Moines really does have a gem of a dairy in its midst with hundreds of tasty offerings.  And with a storied past that helps the dairy maintain its local mystique. Anderson-Erickson has operated on the East side of Des Moines for nearly 90 years now, getting its start when founders Iver Erickson and William Anderson began their work, striving to provide safe, high-quality dairy products for their family and neighbors. The year they started operations was 1930, in the early years of the great depression. Safe to say this may not have been the best time to start a dairy business. Farmers across the Midwest struggled all through the 1920s; but after the financial crash of 1929 things got worse, as the financial meltdown spread across the country, impacting businesses and workers everywhere. The stock market crash caused many businesses to close and many to lay off workers. Starting a new Dairy, especially in Des Moines was a slippery slope. Hard to believe it, but there were already 150 dairies in Des Moines with operating permits at the time. That’s a lot of competition!

But AE kicked it off, starting operations with a small crew pasteurizing milk and delivering it in glass bottles to the local neighborhoods. They adopted the slogan ‘Quality You Can Taste,’ which was used in their advertising for well over half a century. They started small but began to grow quickly; it wasn’t long after that they added AE Old Fashioned Cottage Cheese, another classic product that is coveted by ex-patriots of Des Moines and Iowa. It is simply the best.

Besides its financial success and longevity, part of the company’s history is the charm of the AE story, that it has remained immersed in their community over the years. Community has always been a touchstone for AE starting from those humble beginnings on Des Moines East side. As a respected leader and success that they are today, this venerable dairy kingdom is still at home, nestled in its East-side neighborhood. Over the years, they have set the standards for the industry. When two young boys in Iowa disappeared in the early 1980s, AE was the first dairy in the U.S. to put the photos of missing children on milk cartons. Anderson Erickson also supports local interests by participating in local philanthropy, donating to community events every year. And AE was the first dairy to offer double safety-sealed packaging for its products, helping promote the safety in their products as well as quality and taste.

AE has built their local reputation with service and consistent quality, but they have not stood still – they constantly introduce new and delicious products. The AE product selection (dairy and non-dairy) has grown immensely with products that now include more than 300 varieties of milk, dips, juices, yogurts, cottage cheese, ice cream mixes, and egg nogs. Sometimes they have taken their time with the development of their new tastes, like the time that they struggled with their most challenging new yogurt flavor; it took ten years of testing and development to finally capture and finally introduce – the popular Strawberry Rhubarb Pie yogurt! The founders Anderson and Erickson would no doubt be surprised to see 54 flavors of yogurts and six different varieties of chocolate milk!

With their more recent slogan of “Ridiculously high standards,” AE’s line of products sells more now than ever, solidifying its brand recognition while maintaining their friendly home-town character. After all, can you argue with “fresh dairy products in Iowa, with milk from Iowa farms?” Anderson Erickson continues to grow, spreading to other states as well. But for me, the only AE that counts is that next dip I get at the store. 

Alexandra and Sherry, 2016

Alexandra and Sherry, 2016

Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

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