A little more than 50 years ago, 30% of consumers had their milk home delivered. By 2005, that percentage had shrunk to 0.4%. That's the year the USDA stopped tracking.
End of story? Not by a long shot. Home milk delivery is experiencing a resurgence. It's not a huge one, but there is a noticeable uptick due to the buy-local movement underway by consumers who want to know where their food comes from.
Longmont Dairy, based near Longmont, Colorado, is among a handful of dairy farms with creameries that never stopped making home deliveries. The family dairy operation began making home deliveries in 1965; today it has more than 25,000 home-delivery customers. In fact, home delivery makes up about 99% of the company's business, according to Katie Herrmann, who co-owns the dairy with her brother, Dan Boyd.
As third-generation dairy farmers, Herrmann and Boyd have more than 400 milking cows, produce 15 million pounds of milk annually (all from their own cows), and employ some 85+ people between the farm and the creamery.
"Home delivery has always been the vast majority of what we do," said Herrmann. So even when home delivery was going out of style, Longmont Dairy persisted. "We had built up the infrastructure, and we have dense routes," she explained.
Longmont serves the Front Range region in northeastern Colorado, including the suburbs and rural areas between Fort Collins and Denver. Herrmann said the region offers the perfect climate for home delivery. "The weather allows for home delivery year round because it never gets terribly hot or super cold," she notes.
Longmont customers receive a cooler to set out on their front porch, and they take delivery of fresh milk once a week. They can also elect to get deliveries of butter, cheese, yogurt and eggs.
"Night delivery helps the products stay fresh and cool," Herrmann explains. The timing also allows the delivery drivers (who run 25 trucks up and down the Front Range) to avoid traffic congestion and operate efficiently.
Longmont charges $3.99 for a half gallon of milk plus a $1 delivery fee, which applies to the customers' entire order, whether they request only a gallon of milk or 2 gallons of milk plus eggs and butter.
A RECENT TREND
Longmont is something of an anomaly. Most home-delivery services started up in the last decade or so, banking on the "buy local" mentality of consumers. The businesses also found a niche as a result of the increasingly busy lifestyles of American families who appreciate having basic food staples delivered to their doorstep.
Kilby Cream in Cecil County, Maryland, began offering home delivery 10 years ago, though the family dairy business began more than a century earlier in North Carolina. Fourth-generation co-owner, Megan Coleman, who runs the dairy, creamery and retail business with her mother, Phyllis, said when they first started processing their milk, it was only for ice cream.
"We thought home delivery would be a good way to distribute our product," Coleman said. The family farm is ideally situated between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Today, Kilby Cream has 900 home-delivery customers, mainly in Wilmington, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania and the northern suburbs of Baltimore. Home delivery makes up 40% of this 400-plus milking cow business.
Along with milk, Kilby Cream also offers delivery of butter, eggs, beef, chicken and sausage. Eggs and meat products all come from other local producers. Kilby Cream charges $3.50 per half gallon of white milk, along with a $3 delivery charge and a $2 deposit on their glass bottles.
Coleman has seven family members helping in the business, in addition to herself and a cadre of about 40 employees, and said she plans to keep growing the creamery's home-delivery customer base. "Even though it's convenient for people to go to the grocery store, it's even easier to order online and have products delivered," she said. "Plus, it eliminates the impulse buying we engage in at the grocery store."
But even more than convenience, Coleman said most of Kilby's home-delivery customers appreciate that they can drive right by the farm where their milk is produced. The product goes from the cows to the dinner table with no middleman involved.
And perhaps it goes without saying, but Coleman smiled and said, "Milk just tastes better when it's in a glass bottle."
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