Headstrong and refusing to ever compromise their core family product, the Andrew family have created their own customer base in a predominantly urban area and been rewarded with undivided loyalty which made multiples sit up and take notice.
Marie-Claire Kidd finds out more....
A small dairy farm is making quite a statement with the supply of their fresh, quality milk across the city of Sheffield.
It is what the Andrew family has done in the corner shops and groceries for 70 years in and around the region, along with larger retailers who listened to what their customers wanted.
Strong-willed and business-minded, the family were adamant they would never be a casualty of pricing wars and continue to charge a premium for the consumption of their product.
The Co-op started stocking Our Cow Molly milk in 2016 as part of its drive to sell more local products.
It now sells in six of its branches, including the Stannington branch, just two miles from the dairy at Cliffe House Farm, Dungworth, less than five miles from the city centre.
Last June, the city’s Morrisons branches also took on the milk, which has since been named one of the supermarket’s best-selling local lines.
Eddie Andrew explains: “We had customers on social media saying, ‘We live near Morrisons, why don’t you supply Morrisons?’ Demand was building, but I refused to go through the supermarket’s supply chain.
“Eventually I got a meeting with Morrisons’ head milk buyer and PR manager. When I got there, I tweeted a pic of the van outside Morrisons’ office saying, ‘Wish us luck’.
“Thanks to social media we had the whole conversation in the public eye. The pressure on the milk buyer was irresistible. As far as we know we are the only dairy farmers in the country that physically puts their milk on supermarket shelves themselves.”
The Our Cow Molly story is one of fierce pride in a traditional product, enthusiastic uptake of social media and impressive customer loyalty.
Hector Andrew, now 92, set up the dairy farm with just 10 cows in 1947. He began delivering milk during the Second World War, following in the footsteps of his father, who was also a milkman. Today, the family delivers to 1,000 local doorsteps and has 110 wholesale customers.
The milk is not branded as local but as ‘Sheffield milk’, which Eddie believes makes a world of difference. “People here are very proud of their city,” he says.
He uses the social media hashtag #SuperFreshMilk to bring attention to their short supply chain.
“You can not get fresher,” he says.
“The orders have to be in by 5pm. Then we round up the cows up for milking. We pasteurise, homogenise and bottle overnight, and deliver first thing the next day, so it is on the doorsteps and the shelves within in a few hours. Supermarket milk could be up to a week from a dairy cow, via a processor, distributor and wholesaler.”
The fresher the milk, the higher the nutritional value, and freshness means the milk foams better for lattes and cappuccinos.
Our Cow Molly supplies 40 cafés, including Sheffield University’s 18 coffee shops, and is even promoted on its coffee cups.
“People with coffee shops never ask about price,” Eddie says.
“Coffee culture is a big thing in Sheffield. We have had people coming to the farm in the middle of the night before they go to a barista competition in London so they can say ‘this milk came from a cow this morning’.”
Brand recognition is another part of the success story. The name was inspired by a rhyme emblazoned on the family’s milk vans by Eddie’s dad, Graham: ‘Don’t put it in your trolley, get it from our cow Molly’.
The logo was designed in 2007 by Eddie’s brother-in-law Paul Porter, a Belfast-based graphic designer, who has worked for blue chip companies including Magners Cider.
“It has probably been one of the biggest things behind our success,” says Eddie. “He designed it very much as an image, so it is very recognisable.
“Everything is identical – posters, labels, vans, website, social media. We wanted people to associate the milk with the ice cream. It has achieved that and more.”
Our Cow Molly bottles invite customers to visit the 81-hectare (200-acre farm), which is open four days a week and every day during school holidays. A hard standing provides parking for 40 cars and buses from Sheffield stop at the gate every hour.
But the big draw is the ice cream parlour.
“In summer we have up to five staff working there,” Eddie adds.
“On a sunny day we have hundreds of people. They will queue for half an hour.”
On the other side of the fence are the cows.
“The animals are not in pens with a label on. It is not done for tourism, you see us as you find us. But we are on the National Tourist Board website as one of the places you come to see when you visit England.”
The family’s 85 dairy cows are generally a three-way cross, bred at the farm by crossing Swedish Reds with Holsteins Friesians, then with Fleckviehs or Montbéliardes, crossing them back with a Holstein Friesian.
“We have been up on this hill for the last 70 years,” Eddie adds. “It’s my dad’s lifetime work, breeding these unique cows. Champagne is from a specific region and we produce a single malt milk.”
“I have bred them to improve the udder, legs, feet, their longevity, butter fat proteins, and for better bull calf prices and better cull cow values,” says Graham, Hector’s son.
“We have lost around 1,000 litres per lactation but it’s worth it.”
All the milkers are kept in the same group and given TMR feed through a feeder. Nothing is fed to them in the milking parlour and an independent nutritionist works out the rations.
“We use our own grass silage, a blend from Thompsons and our own barley. We give them yeast supplements and sometimes protected fats,” adds Graham.
The yield, at 7,500 litres per lactation, is lower than you might expect.
“We are looking for 10 years of production, not three years of crazy production,” says Eddie. “But our cows have less health problems.”
The family started making ice cream in June 2007, investing £80,000 in a room and equipment. Over 10 years they have added more rooms, a walk-in freezer and the ice cream parlour.
But ice cream alone was not enough to save the business.
“A lot of dairy farms are suffering because of underinvestment,” reflects Eddie.
“The next generation wants to invest, but they can not afford to. We reached a crossroads and we had to decide what we were going to do.”
- 73ha (180 acres) of pasture and about eight-hectares (20 acres) of corn for feed and straw, on one of the seven hills Sheffield is built on
- Hector’s son Graham looks after the cows and the farm; Thelma Andrew does the farm accounts; Their son Dan is in charge of processing and the doorstep round and Dan’s brother Eddie manages wholesale, marketing ice cream production and the ice cream parlour.
- Dan’s wife Rachael packs the butter and gets orders together. Eddie’s wife Madeline works in the ice cream parlour.
- Three workers help Graham, three assist with processing, bottling and doorstep delivery, one makes ice cream and one runs the ice cream parlour. Two drivers and their assistants deliver the wholesale milk.
- Around four per cent of the milk is used to make Our Cow Molly ice cream, which is sold in a parlour on-site and to shops and restaurants
- The milk uses the Pasture Promise logo, which guarantees their milk is from traditional, seasonally grazed herds and that the farmers get a fair price.
- Won a BBC Food and Farming Awards Future Food Award 2016 for innovation and entrepreneurship in the supply chain
In 2015 the family was still using its first pasteurising dairy, installed in the 1980s. Producing 8,000 litres of milk per week with outdated plant was laborious and inefficient.
Their dairy farming neighbours, the Greys and the Charleworths, both have similar-sized herds.
“We were all getting rubbish price for the milk,” Eddie says. “The idea was we would buy a new dairy and get a good price. Together we had more clout.”
Thanks to a £100,000 Defra Dairy Fund grant, a Natwest loan and contributions from the Greys and the Charleworths, they family was able to install a £500,000 computer-controlled Gemak milk processing plant, with a butter churn.
“It’s a smaller version of what the big dairies have,” says Eddie.
“There are 500,000 people in Sheffield and we are the city’s last milk processing plant. How have we got to this point?”
Now the dairy produces around 20,000 litres per week, using all the Andrews’ milk and some from their neighbours. Spare milk goes to Meadow Foods for skimmed milk powder on an ad hoc basis, the flexibility of which is beneficial for all parties. The plan is to double output and sales.
“We have got six vans and we need to work with companies already delivering in Sheffield,” Eddie says.
“There are a couple of big milk delivery companies working locally with 40 or 50 vans. We would set the price the same as we get from Morrisons and the Co-op.
“There is demand for this. We have lost traceability of milk and the more food scares people hear, the more these massive supply chains worry people.
“We have always remained the same, getting the milk straight from the cow to the customer.
Our customers are loyal, they appreciate our product and the hard work we put in.
“Dairy farming is a great thing to do and we have got some responsibility to make the public and the next generation of dairy farmers think so too.”