Alpine Made


By Sandra Yerges, University of Minnesota Crookston


While browsing the personal care shelves at the store, one may be exposed to a wide variety of products. The main ingredient within these products is often water. Kerry Planck of Alpine Made looked to change this with the beauty and health offerings she provides to her customers. By building her business of goat milk-based products since 2011, Kerry changed the way in which customers view their skincare and health.

Although Kerry started with a small farm of three goats eleven years ago, she has an extensive background in the farming and agriculture industry. She was raised in a family of farmers who immigrated from Cuba and instilled their passion for agriculture onto her. This passion led her to an educational path surrounding the biological sciences. As a 2000 graduate of Binghamton University with a master’s degree in plant ecology, Kerry gained the practical knowledge and skills to start her career.

There were a variety of positions she held before the establishment of Alpine Made that offered her many job advancing opportunities. During her job as a natural resource technician with the Soil and Water Conservation District, she received a firsthand look into dairy farming. By working with farmers and instructing them on the best practices for maintaining on-site nutrient sources, she merged her background in plant ecology with dairy farming.

When Kerry decided to start her entrepreneurial endeavor after moving to Wales, New York, she had little experience with the animal care side of the farm. With a background leaning more toward the biological side of agriculture, she had to train herself in the breeding and milking processes of the goats. “I was learning this all just through experimentation,” she expressed.

While going through this experimental process, she realized that she wanted to grow this operation to be a full-time endeavor. She gained help in this process through two mentor groups, from SCORE as well as the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College. Kerry admitted they were helpful in instilling business skills in her despite being an organization not focused on agriculture. Working with these mentors allowed her to create a business and understand the farming elements surrounding it.

“Not having too much business experience, I was naive in the fact that I thought offering more products with more of a selection was better,” Kerry explained. When she realized this and looked ahead to the future of her company, she decided it would be best to focus only on a select set of products to ensure business success.

All of the seven product types she offers to her wholesale and retail customers have a broad healing property for those with skin conditions. Alpine Made sells ten goat milk soaps made with 38% milk, all of which is collected from the animals on the farm. In addition, she offers a shelf-stable lotion that stands out from other goat-based products made of 75% milk.

“I developed recipes to add physically as much milk as possible that the chemistry would allow to create a shelf stable, long-term product,” Kerry stated. “Your skin will absorb milk quicker than it will absorb say a plant oil you apply to it.” Because of these biological factors and the benefits they offer to users, Alpine Made customers continue to rave about these products.

Furthermore, Alpine Made also produces a cream, lip healing salve, serum, exfoliating sugar scrub, and non-milk healing salve. Kerry explained her reasoning behind sticking to her small and functional product line by stating, “I want everybody human that has skin and issues to be able to come to me and say ‘what do I need to heal this?’” After viewing customer testimonials on the company’s website, it is obvious that skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis, have been treated with these products.

To get to this point in her business, however, Kerry required the help of her first full-time employee hired in 2013 who helped develop the product line. Kerry indicated that she had the breeding and milking process down to a science, but developing the brand’s offerings with a new worker was the next step. During the three year span of this employee at the farm, there was the established understanding of who they wanted to market their products to as well as which products would work best for the market.

From the research and development conducted throughout those years, Alpine Made began supplying their ten soap products to Wegmans, a supermarket in the Northeast United States. Outside of the wholesale element of the company, the business also offers their products on their website for users to browse through and purchase online. All of the packaging and shipping occurs on the Wales acreage Alpine Made calls home. After starting with four acres and growing to fifteen throughout the years of shipping these products, the business has seen growth in this retail endeavor.

With this growth has come stability in the normal operations on the farm. Kerry explained that in order to keep up with the yearly inventory at Alpine Made, she learned that it only takes the breeding of five to ten goats every fall. Unlike other conventional goat farms, all of the male goats except one for breeding are sold from the farm. This allows Kerry to control her herd while also looking at the possibility for new genetics to be brought into the mix.

In 2017, Kerry decided it was time to look into USDA grant funding to grow her business further. Three years later after hiring a grant writing firm to help her with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) application, she received access to the grant funds to help in this process.

The grant tailored to three main areas of Alpine Made: staffing, marketing assistance, and inputs for the farm. Obtaining more hands-on help on the farm and off-site with the promotion of the products sold online was a large focus of the funds. In addition, packaging supplies for the online orders and the raw materials going into the farm were also financed with the VAPG.

Because COVID-19 was highly prevalent in 2020 when the grant period started for Alpine Made, the goal Kerry established of doubling the sales revenue of her value-added products did not occur. However, there was an increase in sales that allowed her to stay afloat during a time when other businesses were being affected. “The timing of this grant was fundamental in not only my survival, but my success and a stable success at that,” Kerry said.

Not shying away from this goal, Kerry hopes to apply for more grants in the future to try to reach the sales she desired when starting her VAPG journey two years ago. It may take longer than she originally forecasted, but she is excited to work toward these results.