New UW-P dairy plant churning student business opportunities

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Platteville has a sweet addition.

Pioneer Sweets, a student-run business, launched this week and will sell ice cream that is produced on campus.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Tera Montgomery, a professor of dairy and animal science who advised three student managers.

The $60,000 project received a grant in 2019 from Compeer Financial to jumpstart operations in a new dairy plant in Glenview Commons, where the ice cream is produced. But its opening was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pioneer Sweets does not have a retail space, but it will sell its products at campus eateries. Montgomery and the students also are reaching out to businesses in Platteville and Dubuque for potential wholesale opportunities.

“We can make a custom flavor for them, and they can sell it themselves,” Montgomery said.

Another idea is acquiring a bicycle with a mobile freezer for on-the-ground sales.

UW-P senior Katie Yanke, an agricultural business major, oversees the ordering of promotional products for Pioneer Sweets.

“We started with nothing,” she said. “I really like the concept of seeing the business grow over time. … It took a lot more paperwork than I expected.”

The business currently produces three flavors — vanilla, cinnamon-butterscotch-oatmeal and mocha chip — but will continue to develop its menu.

The students are using a pre-pasteurized ice cream mix to keep costs down, but they ultimately will make their own utilizing cow’s milk produced at the university’s Pioneer Farm. Later, they will experiment with sheep and goat milk.

Students dished out the first ice cream produced at the plant this week when UW System interim President Tommy Thompson visited campus to promote student vaccination and celebrate Pioneer Sweets’ opening.

He said UW-P, with its new campus ice cream business, is competing with UW-Madison and UW-River Falls for the best campus-produced ice cream.

Along with UW-P, those institutions also are members the state’s Dairy Innovation Hub, an initiative intended to bolster the state’s agricultural economy through research and innovation.

One project involves research in which faculty are measuring the fluid mechanical characteristics of ice cream using a device called a rheometer. The research will determine how the ice cream’s viscosity and elasticity relate to its feel inside consumers’ mouths. Hundreds of samples have been tested from different mixes, and raters assessed them based upon the sensations of melting, mouth-coating, stickiness, smoothness, creaminess and airiness.

That research will help determine the ingredients of the Pioneer Sweets ice cream mix that will be produced on campus.

“We want to get a sense for what’s good balance of sugar and cream and whole milk,” Montgomery said.