When the locavore movement got underway, people told Ron Marks he was crazy to
think that the same concepts and quality could be applied to cultured dairy. Well, with
about 1000 cases of handmade all natural yogurt sold every week, Marks definitely
Marks established AtlantaFresh in late 2008, soon after the stock market crash. Before
AtlantaFresh’s inception, Marks worked for Focus on Food, a culinary consultant and
marketing firm for fast food restaurants and chains. Performing consumer research at the
Norcross location, Marks developed functioning menus and branding strategies for an
array of clients.
“The more I worked there, the more left-winged my food politics became” Marks asserts.
Frustrated by the conglomerate mentality to produce cheaper, faster, and “less real” food, Marks took the sudden dissolution of the firm as an opportunity to find a way to make food as good as he possibly could again.
Joining the Slow Food and Georgia Organics organizations a few years prior, Marks
became acquainted with like-minded individuals, most importantly Russell Johnston of
Johnston Family Farms of Newborn, GA. The relationship seemed “just providence”
Marks looks back; now AtlantaFresh is the largest buyer of Johnston’s milk.
Johnston Family Farms provides all-natural grass-fed milk, produced right on the farm.
Delivered raw to the AtlantaFresh Creamery (the very same rehabilitated space of Focus
on Food firm in Norcross), the skim milk is first pasteurized, using a lower temperature
than most commercial dairies choose. After incubating for eight hours, the whey is then
removed, and this separation is precisely what separates Greek yogurt from regular
yogurt. Marks upcycles this would-be waste, selling the whey to local hog farmers as
Flavor additions of cooked natural fruits are added next, and then the yogurt is distributed into 6 oz, 16 oz, or 32 oz containers and finally labeled and packaged. From farm to adorably designed cup, the entire process takes approximately 36 hours. This freshness is what makes AtlantaFresh yogurt so different and special from other yogurts. It’s not the same heavy thickness as typical Greek yogurts, having a consistency closer to regular yogurt, but still maintaining that smooth creamy taste.
The flavor profiles, all developed by Marks himself, also set AtlantaFresh above the rest.
Ginger Peach, Black Cherry Port Wine, Wildflower Honey are just a few of the mouth-watering staples. Marks expressed excitement to release his newest flavors this spring: Maple Bacon and French Roast Coffee.
Raised in the foothills of the Allegany mountains in Western Pennsylvania, Marks is first
generation American to Czech and Hungarian parents. Trained as a butcher and sausage
maker in his family-owned general store, Marks has been in the food business his whole
life. The strong childhood impressions of the sour creams, milks, and Laban from the
small dairy producers on homesteads in the north, fueled Marks’ desire to fill that missing niche in the southeast.
And filling it he is, AtlantaFresh continues to grow every year, with the Creamery at
only 15% capacity. New products like Greek yogurt-based salad dressings and hard
frozen packed yogurts are in the works. While the recent discontinuation of the hand-
made mozzarella cheeses may have upset many local chefs and fans, Marks describes
the decision as financially an easy one, giving the Creamery more time and space for the
high-selling yogurt products.
Sold at every Whole Foods, several Krogers, markets, coffee shops and the like,
AtlantaFresh is making quite the imprint on Atlanta’s local food community. Marks
intends to further penetrate the southeast, but all the while asking ethically, “ credibility-
wise, how many miles can you go without losing the original intent of the product?”
The AtlantaFresh Creamery in Norcross recently opened a storefront, so die-hard fans
can purchase all the yogurt they want year-round at farmer market prices and possibly
have a chance to meet the man behind the yogurt.
And that’s all I have to say about that,
Winter 2012 Atlanta Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!