The use of vending machines on UK farms has become quite popular over the past year particularly so in the dairy sector where prices have slumped.
Dairy farmers are trying to cut out the middle man and take a larger slice of the money paid by the consumer in a bid to make ends meet. Milk prices in some parts of the UK have dipped as low as £0.16 (€0.21) per litre and dairy farmers need every penny they can get to stay in business.
Many farmers have in the past utilised some of their milk production by starting on farm ice cream production. However, that can prove to be a seasonal market and alternatives are badly needed. And now many farmers in the UK are turning to milk vending machines as a means of increasing their profit margins. Some are selling raw milk through the machines, which is legal in most of the UK except Scotland where it is banned.
Selling raw milk
Brothers Jonny and George Crickmore have been farming the beautiful Waveney River Valley in Suffolk for over 80 years. They milk 300 Montbeliarde cows and run a beef herd and a small amount of arable land. On the farm they make raw cheese, butter and cream but also run a raw milk vending machine for the general public to buy milk from. The Crickmore family was the first to install a milk vending machine on a farm in the UK to sell raw milk and have complied with all the tests and legislation set down before them.
Nowadays they act as agents for the DF Italia milk vending machines, the same brand as the one they installed.
Adding value to milk
Jonny Crickmore said they sell milk at £1 per litre from the machine in either plastic or glass bottles and are shipping it other parts of the UK, even to Scotland. Jonny said: "We wanted to add value to our milk on top of all the cheese and cream making so decided to look at vending machines.
"We initially ran an honesty box beside a small fridge at the farm gate in which we put fresh milk on a daily basis. However, some people were not as honest as we thought they would be. "The vending machine gives us total control and we are currently selling around 130 litres of raw milk per day from it.
"The public simply come to the farm and buy their milk either in a plastic of glass bottle. We sell the milk for £1 per litre and make £0.50 per litre depending on which bottle they choose. "We still send about 90% of our milk produced to the processor and are only receiving £0.22 per litre for that."
It seems demand for this type of selling milk direct from farm is on the increase as Jonny sold 9 of the vending machines in 2015 and has already sold one in 2016. "There are a number of benefits from drinking raw milk but there are also some dangers," said Jonny. "If a farm complies with all the health and safety legislations then there should be no problem. "It seems strange that we can sell raw milk in England but it is banned in Scotland and even stranger that consumers there can buy it online and we can ship it up there.
"We normally sell 5 to 10 litres to the Scottish consumers in one batch and they freeze it for later use. "By the time it reaches them taking shipping and ice pack packing into consideration the milk is costing them around £3 per litre.
"We are noticing higher sales in Scotland because there is a demand there yet no farmers to serve that demand which is really bizarre."
Jonny also said the milk vending machines were a quick way of improving cash flows instantly. He said: "Milk vending machines are a quick and simple way to begin diversification of a dairy farm business. "They provide instant cash flow, require minimum labour and output from the farmer and when located carefully the payback on the initial investment can be very fast. "They can also make a great add-on to an already well established dairy diversification, such as a farm shop or open farm."