There is little cause for
celebration for many
producers, but one family
has taken its future into its
own hands and is amazed at
its marketing ventures
Jessica Buss reports
IN JUST a few weeks this summer, one Co Durham milk producer went from supplying one milk buyer to 1000 private customers, mostly individual households.
Although national doorstep milk deliveries have gone through a steady decline, the Tweddle family have put their efforts in to a new milk delivery business.
"The concept of having fresh goods delivered is reviving," says Roger Lovell, who has been advising the Tweddles on their new enterprise with John Gerring, chairman of Mount Pleasant Farm Dairy, Farringdon, Oxon.
Milk deliveries began in July this year as the Tweddles Garthorne Farm, Achdeacon Newton, Darlington, completed its two and a half year organic conversion period.
Gordon and Linda Tweddle first considered organic production in the 1980s. "We always felt we were producing a commodity in a surplus market, with 25,000 producers selling to a handful of processors, who in turn supply a handful of supermarkets," explains Mr Tweddle.
"We decided that we would have to sell direct to the consumer to avoid the treadmill of declining prices and going down the route of cutting costs."
However, during the early 1990s milk prices were good – the farms annual average price peaked at 27.4p a litre – and the farm was undergoing a period of development. By the time milk price began falling the unit met all required standards and investment was paid for.
At that time milk price was predicted to fall to 21p a litre. "We could still cope with prices falling to 21p a litre as we had the system in place and modern technology.
"But we looked at what state our business would be in by 2000 and asked what business we wanted to run.
"We considered our son and daughter and responsibility to our farm staff, and wanted them to feel that we had a long term commitment to the job. But we couldnt survive with a milk price of 16p a litre, so we thought again about converting to organic."
Although the area is not a traditional organic market, the Tweddles own survey in Darlington and its surrounding area showed that locals were prepared to pay a premium for organic food. They also wanted food produced locally and traceability.
Their first survey was completed just before organic conversion began. At that time the Tweddles decided to join the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-op (OMSCo), and its a decision they dont regret.
Members of the co-op have helped them through conversion, and they have learned a great deal from visiting other members farms. OMSCo is still the farms quota holder.
But a year ago a further survey confirmed that there was a local market for their organic milk. In March they decided to market their milk direct to the consumer.
"If producers want to improve their lot, they have to do something positive. Otherwise the message they are giving buyers is that they are happy," says Mr Tweddle.
"Our end price is now down to our skills in marketing and packaging milk, rather than moaning at the dairy industry."
And their marketing has proved successful. Initial projections were for 200 customers by late August, 800 by Christmas and 1000 by next March. But within four weeks they had received requests for delivery from more than 900 doorstep customers, and had already began supplying some local shops.
Doorstep customers are charged 74p a litre or 42p a pint.
Mr Tweddles son Graham has joined the two full-time men, employed for deliveries six nights a week, to deliver on alternate nights and to shops.
Shop customers are already becoming loyal to the brand, says Graham. "One village post office sold out of our milk and many of its customers refused to take conventional milk instead."
But deliveries must be economic and the area currently being developed is Darlington and villages in the surrounding 20 mile area. The farm is just two miles from the town.
Each house is delivered to three times a week, as the quality of milk and refrigeration from cow to doorstep means that it keeps well, says Mrs Tweddle.
Shortly, the Tweddles plan to begin collecting the poly bottles milk is delivered in so that they can be chipped back at the farm and sent for recycling – keeping in line with their organic beliefs and concern for the local environment.
"There have been a lot of set up costs, and we must sell many pints of milk to achieve an economic business scale. But our success will be in taking control of the end price," says Gordon.
The concept of having fresh goods delivered is reviving, according to Roger Lovell, Graham Tweddle, John Gerring and Gordon Tweddle, and that has helped the success of
• Use professional advisers.
• Devote time to plan.
• Source skills locally.