A Northumberland family’s venture into milk retailing has successfully focused its marketing on the image of its pedigree Dairy Shorthorn and Ayrshire cattle – but moving into direct selling has meant a substantial capital investment and working days that can start as early as 2.30am.
For the last three years David Baynes and his wife Shirley, along with sons Richard and Paul have been retailing milk from the 130 cows in their Marleycote herd at Slayley, Hexham. Driven by the low producer price and the need to increase income to support three families, their initial research into milk retailing showed a significant gap in the market.
“Compared with other parts of the UK there was no-one retailing milk over a large area of the north east – and that’s probably a reflection of the fact there are barely 30 dairy herds left in Northumberland,” says David Baynes, a past president of the Shorthorn Cattle Society.
Keen to capitalise on consumers’ image of red and white cattle – and the herd’s pedigree status – the family felt all the components were in place to look seriously at the economics of milk retailing.
“As a family we could provide the initial labour input, we had the cows, there was a gap in the market and the population was close by,” says David Baynes.
The initial market research brought a positive response, although when it came to actually securing customers there was no alternative to “knocking on doors”.
The business was never aimed at doorstep deliveries, but has targeted shops, farm shops, hotels, cafes, restaurants and rest homes with its image of high quality, locally-produced milk from pedigree cows.
“Even though we’re selling to retail outlets and volume users, such as hotels and restaurants rather than direct to consumers, we found there was a growing awareness of how the food they were buying was produced and from where it was produced.
“And among retail outlets our milk gives shopkeepers a competitive edge because of its local and high quality image.”
Conscious of the value of the herd’s image, the family sought design and marketing advice which has resulted in the red and white cow logo – and the slogan “Northumbrian Pedigree Milk and Cream” – becoming the chosen livery for its delivery vans. And with the added message “From Moo To You” – the Baynes’ vehicles have become a valuable marketing aid.
The on-farm milk plant – comprising bulk tanks, separator, pasteuriser, bottling and labelling line – is now run by Paul while brother Richard focuses on herd management.
As well as promoting milk on the locally produced and high quality angle, deciding to focus on the image of red and white cows and their pedigree status has really hit the spot with consumers, explains Richard Baynes.
“When we took a couple of cows to a farm shop for a promotion, people appreciated the chance to get close to cows they could buy milk from – and while it may not seem like anything unusual to us, the fact cows were shown and had won championships added a whole new dimension to consumers’ perception of our milk.”
The Baynes’ milk is not homogenized which they believe improves its taste, as well as giving it another marketing edge over its large-scale competitors.
“We still have the cream-line on our milk and customers constantly tell us it tastes like milk used to taste,” says David Baynes.
Paul Baynes, who took qualifications in milk technology and food hygiene, takes the brunt of the unsociable hours associated with the new venture and is at work at 2.30am three days a week when milk is being processed – and continues to work through the rest of the day.
“I’d never have envisaged the hours we put in now. We’re working harder than we’ve ever done, but it’s a given the business a whole new impetus. Maintaining the highest standards of hygiene is something you’ve got to be constantly aware of. When you’re farming you look at hygiene visually, but when you’re working with food you’ve got to look at it microscopically,” says Paul Baynes.
He says the venture has proved just how important it is to have a family team behind the entire business. “You can’t set up something like this and let the extra workload undermine the way you manage cows. Without them there’s no business. We’re all putting in a massive effort to keep every aspect of the farm and the milk business up to the mark.”