Vending machines have seen a recent spike in popularity as farmers seek to cut out the middle man and sell direct to the consumer. Olivia Midgley asks three farmers to describe their experiences of setting up a raw milk enterprise and asks for advice on getting a vending machine off the ground.
The UK dairy industry may be experiencing one of the toughest crises in living memory, but more and more farmers are seeing it as an opportunity to break away from the pack.
Whether it be community schemes set up to trade in farm produce, to vending machines or direct raw milk sales, farmers are grasping opportunities to cut costs and more importantly, turn a profit.
Jeremy Holmes, founder of the hugely successful Yummy Yorkshire ice cream brand, based in Denby Dale, West Yorkshire, says the fall in milk price, coupled with massive global over supply, has forced producers to seek alternative markets.
“I don’t think you can keep putting money into your cows when we’re in the dire situation we’re in at the moment. We couldn’t see the point of milking 100 cows and getting 18ppl. You have to think outside the box and look at what you can do on your own farm.”
Mr Holmes said he had been forced to take the difficult decision to reduce cow numbers by 50 per cent this summer. He will use the extra space to expand the ice cream parlour and provide extra customer parking.
“We have to work at what is making money for us,” said Mr Holmes, who produces about 2,900l a day and supplies Medina Dairies.
I saw an advert in Cow Management magazine last summer and was absolutely inspired by it. I went to see Jonny in Suffolk and straight away I loved the machine’s simplicity. It had a constant flow of customers. I thought if he could make it work on a little B Road, then we, [on a busy A road] definitely could.
I thought it was a big risk going to raw milk because if we ever had a health scare we did not want the Yummy Yorkshire brand being brought into it. The vending machine is solely part of the Delph House Farm enterprise.
Like Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream, Delph House Farm is a trusted brand and I think this played a big part in the popularity of our product. People trust us so they will try it.
DF Italia machines range from about £4,500 to £10,000
Ours was £9,000 that the farm has not got so we had to dig deep. It was a slow start but after a concentrated advertising campaign it has started to really take off.
A licence from the Food Standards Agency costs £90 for the year.
It’s not as simple as you might think. It’s a completely different concept from milking cows and filling up a tank and forgetting about it. Cleanliness is absolutely paramount. If you are not careful and there was an outbreak of listeria, E.Coli or salmonella, it would do untold damage to the industry. It would cause panic and probably wipe out the sector before it properly got going.
The Food Standards Agency reviews the safety of raw milk every year.
Unannounced, the FSA inspects our whole dairy outfit every other month and takes a sample of the raw milk. As there is no pasteurisation and the milk is effectively going straight from the cow to the consumer, it is very important to get this right. We used to process milk years ago so we know cleanliness is vital.
We are using artificial insemination with semen from Semex to cross breed our Holstein Friesians with the Brown Swiss. This is to get some more protein and butter fat content into the milk, to make it even higher quality.
Raw food and the paleo diet are becoming more and more popular so raw milk can play a big role in that. It’s also very popular in the ethnic market – we have a customer who makes ghee from it.
One guy’s kids have stopped drinking Diet Coke and now just drink raw milk.
It is non-homogenised so the good fats haven’t been broken down.
At our Christmas market last year we gave tasters of raw milk.
Anyone who comes to the farm is asked if they would like to try some.
We also advertise in the local paper and regional magazines. We spend money on adverts and editorials which is important when you’re promoting a new product.
We are also very active on social media.
Mr Holmes installed his vending machine last October and is already seeing the benefits.
“I think vending machines are absolutely brilliant for the industry,” he added.
“We have people coming from all over to buy milk from us. Someone buys 20l to make her own cheese, but most buy it just to drink."
Arla producer David Berry, who milks 120 cows with his son Philip in at Boggart House Farm in Barton, Lancashire, began selling raw milk last November following major investment in a state-of-the-art robotic milking parlour.
Under the ‘Barton Brook Dairy’ label, the Berry family are already selling 40l a day on average at £1.30/l.
“You have to look for more outlets,” said Mr Berry.
“We started by bottling the milk ourselves and refrigerating it, then people came in, put their money in the honesty box and took their milk.
“It costs us 30ppl for the milk, bottle, lid and label. Bottling 80 to 100l a day is a very time consuming job so we have been doing a lot of research into vending machines.”
Mr Berry said he wanted to ensure there was demand for the raw milk before making the investment.
“We are now starting to do the volumes where it would make sense,” he added.
Both farmers have called on the expertise of Jonny Crickmore who milks 300 Montbeliarde and Montbeliarde crosses at Fen Farm Dairy in Bungay, Suffolk.
Fen Farm was the first in the UK to install a raw milk vending machine five years ago.
The machine sells milk at £1/l.
Mr Crickmore said: “I am passionate about putting dairy farmers in control of the milk price, rather than it being in the hands of the processor or the supermarket.
“It’s a cheap way of adding value to your product and providing you get it right, a good, simple way to diversify.”
Mr Crickmore started importing the DF Italia machines from Italy a year ago.
Since then he was helped set up 11 around the UK.