A commitment to local and a passion for people has seen Hanover Dairies and its doorstep deliveries become an integral part of customers’ everyday lives.
Emily Ashworth visits the business to find out how the legacy of the milkman lives on.
The clink of a fresh bottle of milk being placed on the doorstep would have once been the staple sound of the nation’s morning, followed by the reassuring hum of the milk float as it meandered down the street.
To see your local milkman on his daily rounds would have been a normal occurrence for anyone growing up before the 1990s, but as supermarkets made the switch to cheaper plastic bottles during the 1990s, lower prices began to leave milkmen struggling to compete. Of late, though, bottled milk is very much back and, this time some believe it is here to stay.
According to Dairy UK, doorstep deliveries of glass bottles just two years ago were about 800,000 per day. Currently, that figure has positively crept up to about one million. Hanover Dairies, a family-based business at Blaydon, Gateshead, has slowly been growing its milkrounds since 1976, when its founder, Trevor Hanover, began with just one milkround.
With more than 200 doorstep rounds now operating throughout the North East, North West and Scotland, it is now down to managing director Tony Baldwin to continue its success. What strikes you most about Tony is his passion when speaking about the role of a milkman. Throughout the conversation he recalls numerous interesting tales of his customers, the banter between them and the friendships that have formed throughout his 28 years in the business. But quite clearly it is much more than just a job. It is about that old-fashioned sentiment of looking out for your neighbour and providing reliability.
“It is all about being part of a community,” says Tony.
“You have to be a caring person, otherwise you wouldn’t last. People trust you and look forward to your visit.
“In some cases, it’s a way of keeping an eye on vulnerable people too, especially older customers. It is a telling sign if someone’s milk bottle is still on their doorstep and a prompt to just check if they’re okay or get in touch with someone.
“It’s a fantastic job. You’re up and out early, meeting people, making friends. The job carries responsibility, but is rewarding in so many ways.” The local connection is also paramount, as not only does the business work with the surrounding suppliers and farmers, but the milkmen themselves call their areas home, providing jobs in local places for local people.
Over the past 10 years, Hanover Dairies has grown by buying milkrounds, investing in them and looking after the individual needs of the milkman and, in turn, the customer. But their appeal lies in four simple core products – milk, eggs, flavoured milk and fresh orange juice.
Flavoured milk in recyclable glass bottles is the latest addition to the business and is already surprisingly selling up to 16,000 bottles a week.
What is interesting, though, is that when asked who buys the flavoured milk, Tony laughs and poses the ultimate question.
“Who is the person that treats you most?” he says.
“There is a large percentage of our customers who are over 50 and they are all buying it to give it to the grandchildren.”
Per week, the company provides 840,000 pints of milk and has only recently begun to advertise through social media channels and via leaflets attached to the milk bottles by the dedicated employees of the company.
These days, says Tony, the idea of a milkman is slightly anomalous, with the whole family out of the house working or in education, whereas in times gone by there would be somebody at home, listening out for the delivery.
Through Facebook promotion and website updates, it has attracted new customers by showing the benefits of buying milk in a traditional way. Aside from the exceptional service the business prides itself on, the renewed interest in choosing doorstep delivery is a conscious one, says Tony, as the world moves in to an era when people want to be environmentally aware and proactive . He says:
“Since David Attenborough came out and said we are killing the world with plastic, our glass milk bottle sales have increased significantly.
“It’s a case of, need to cut down on plastic usage? Call your local milkman.
“People are starting to act responsibly and the fact is, you can’t buy reusable glass milk bottles anywhere apart from the milkman.
“Most of the customers we’ve acquired in 2018 have requested glass-bottled milk, but regardless of how great it is for our business, it’s a much wider issue.”
Hanover Dairies is also heavily involved in fundraising and has managed to raise more than £320,000 for the Rainbow Trust, a charity which provides emotional and practical support to families who have a child with a life threating or terminal illness.
Over the past 10 years Trevor Hanover and the team have undertaken many challenges, including bike rides and walks, in aid of the trust. But it is founder Trevor who has pushed himself to the limit.
In 2008, he walked the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, from Glasgow to Inverness, which ended with him in hospital with serious injuries to his feet.
Tony says: “Every two years we hold a charity ball which is attended and supported by all our suppliers and everyone involved in our business.
“Every other year we deliver charity leaflets to our customers’ doors and it is amazing to see them support it in the way they do. That gives you a nice feeling because a big percentage of the donations come from our doorstep customers.”
To mark such dedication, in 2016 Trevor was named a ‘Point of Light’ by former Prime Minister David Cameron – an award recognising people who are making a change in their community. There are no plans to do anything extravagant in the future. Instead, the firm will keep on doing what it does best – that is provide for the communities it finds itself an essential part of.
“Our big passion is, and has always been, doorstep delivery. It’s where Trevor and myself started,” says Tony.
“Through being able to deliver milk in reusable glass bottles, we are thankful to be in a position to offer an alternative that can ease the plastic pollution issue that we now all face.
“Moving forward we will continue to do what we have always done, and that is to deliver excellent customer service and products from our local suppliers direct to customers’ doorsteps.”