Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012, 9:44 pm

Hy-Vee's lactose-intolerant dairy manager knows his product

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By Leon Lagerstam,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Jared Rafferty is the dairy manager at the Hy-Vee Food Store on Avenue of the Cities in Moline.
MOLINE -- Jokes about a lactose-intolerant dairy manager freely flow through Hy-Vee Food Store aisles.

''People think it's absolutely hilarious,'' Jared Rafferty said, the aforementioned manager at Hy-Vee's 4218 Avenue of the Cities store. ''It's a running joke among my co-workers and some loyal regular customers. If I tell them, 'Here, try this. It's really good stuff,' I'm always getting asked 'How would you know?'''

Before joining Hy-Vee, Mr. Rafferty, 38, of Rock Island, spent 20 years providing high-level security to executives and celebrities, and training others to do so, too. However, amblyopia, a condition more commonly known as ''lazy eye,'' kept him from getting a job in the FBI, Homeland Security or similar law enforcement agency. ''People I've trained have went on to join every branch,'' he said.

Ironically, friends and students in his former line of work gave him the code name of ''The Milk Man,'' he said with a chuckle.

When Mr. Rafferty, a 1991 Bettendorf High School graduate, came back to live in the Quad-Cities a few years ago, ''there were some openings for some jobs that would have matched my expertise,'' he said. But he was looking for a job in which the interactions with the public were friendlier and more positive, Mr. Rafferty said.

''In my old job, you were usually dealing with people during one of the worst moments of their life, and generally not very happy to see me,'' he said. Customers and co-workers at Hy-Vee are so much nicer and greater to deal with, he added.

''And I think it has made me a nicer person, too,'' Mr. Rafferty said. ''I can't wait to get to work in the morning, and it's easy to keep a smile on my face, which was so much harder to do when wearing a security uniform.''

He wasn't the first in his family to be involved in the security or law-enforcement business. His great-great-grandfather, Daniel Rafferty, once worked as the chief of detectives in Chicago.

''But I am the first dairy manager in the family,'' he said, with another chuckle.

One supplier also knows him as ''the very aggressive dairy manager, because I love to hunt and find the best deals,'' Mr. Rafferty said.

Yet, it's his lactose-intolerance that generates the most amusement for people, he said. It actually poses no on-the-job trouble, though.

''I spend a lot of time researching our product base,'' he said, and when it comes time to sample something new, he counts on his staff and his friends in the nearby meat department. "Those guys will eat anything.''

If anyone's wondering, no member of the meat department is a vegetarian, he said. ''But we did have a bakery manager once who was allergic to flour,'' he added.

Mr. Rafferty supervises four part-timers, ranging in age from 18 to 60, so he gets a wide variety of opinions from taste tests. Yet he often wishes he could try the samples, too, especially when handing bottles of chocolate milk to customers.

''I wasn't always lactose-intolerant,'' he said. ''I grew up eating my fair share of Whitey's. But when I was around 29 or 30, I developed it.''

So instead of milk, he relies on water, juices, and lots of coffee -- black -- and, of course, no creamer.

''But did you know there are 17 different Coffee-Mate flavors that now take up an eight-foot section in the store?" Mr. Rafferty said. "We also have more than 300 types of yogurts, and plenty of supplies of soy milk, rice milk and four different brands of lactose-free milk.''

He can eat some of the yogurts because of the active cultures they contain, he said.

Educating people about different product choices is something else he really likes to do. ''And you can be sure that the milk is safe with me,'' he said. ''I've gone from wearing a bullet-proof vest in 110-degree heat in Arizona, to now wearing a jacket in a 32-degree cooler in Moline.''

But what else would you expect? After all, he is ''The Milk Man.''