1 June 2021
Thinking outside the box, or to be more precise, a highly customised horse box, where you can buy ‘farm fresh’ milk from a ‘mobile’ vending machine, has proved a winning idea for a family of third-generation Ceredigion dairy farmers now selling their milk directly to hundreds of customers.
The purpose-designed trailer, emblazoned with the eye-catching branding of ‘Llaeth Llanfair’ has proved a popular attraction for customers in Lampeter, Cwmann, Tregaron and Llanybydder who clearly enjoy both the taste and experience of buying pasteurised milk and syrup-flavoured shakes fresh from the farm, in their own locality.
Milk vending machines have proved a rapidly expanding market throughout the UK and Europe in recent years, boosted by customers keen to avoid busy supermarkets during the pandemic.
Laura Jones of Llanfair Fach farm, her husband Dafydd and his brother Guto, farm an 800 acre dairy holding in Llanfair Clydogau near Lampeter. The trio, with full approval from the two brothers’ parents, took their diversification ideas one step further than many families when they decided to set up a mobile service, rather than positioning their vending machine within the farm boundary or in just one fixed permanent location.
“Having a specially kitted-out trailer means that we can tow it to areas where we identify a need for this type of service, where we’re pretty confident about footfall levels and have permission from the site owners,” says Laura.
The Jones family have recently purchased their second milk vending machine, which is located inside the forecourt convenience store at Valley Services, a garage on the outskirts of Llandysul, ahead of the expected stream of visitors heading for the Ceredigion coastline this summer.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support and advice we received through Farming Connect initially and then Cywain, whose mentors specialise in providing support for food and drink producers,” says Laura.
Both organisations are delivered by Menter a Busnes and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, offering complementary services and support to businesses in Wales.
“Our diversification journey first began with technical help and guidance from Farming Connect, which our family has tapped into over many years, on issues such as nutrient management planning of the soil, our grazing strategy and animal health topics, which together have contributed to the land performing at peak levels and our herd of 400 Friesian cross Jersey cows being in the best possible condition to produce top quality milk.
Each cow produces around 6,500 litres of milk per annum sold on contract to First Milk, but Laura explained that with an ever-increasing surplus year on year as more heifers are retained, she was determined to drive forward her idea of selling any excess milk direct to the public.
“I talked to other farmers already selling through vending machines and persuaded the family that we should press ahead with the project, which although costly in terms of finance and time when you start, definitely has the potential to pay back the initial investment and create a new stream of income within a relatively short time.”
Alongside buying and customising the horse box and Laura commissioning a graphic designer friend to design the new brand, the family also created a purpose-built facility which houses an in-line pasteuriser, close to their herringbone milking parlour.
Recognising that getting the marketing right would be a critical factor in making the venture successful, in August 2020, Laura attended a Farming Connect diversification surgery with experienced marketing consultant Clare Hester of Landsker. The hour-long one-to-one session, conducted over the telephone due to the pandemic restrictions, gave Laura her first introduction to marketing, focusing particularly on building up a customer base through local engagement, branding and customer awareness through flyer drops, local advertising and a presence on social media.
“Clare also directed us to Cywain, where we have built up excellent relationships with Lowri Jones, our local development manager, together with various sector-specific mentors on both financial and business planning and we’ve also received more in-depth guidance on the marketing elements.
Lowri also alerted the Jones family to the application window for a local council grant which was available at that time – ‘we applied in the nick of time’ – and signposted the family to Food Centre Wales at Horeb, who provide accredited training on many of the critical topics food producers need including technical skills and food safety qualifications.
“Although all our meetings had to be online or over the phone because of the pandemic, we’ve learned a huge amount and found the guidance and support from both Farming Connect and Cywain invaluable.
So, what next for the entrepreneurial Laura who firmly believes that women are often the driving force behind countlesss diversification initiatives. Describing herself as an advocate of ‘girl power’, she’s keen for more women have the confidence to ‘think outside the box’, to create sustainable new streams of income and she’s enjoying seeing her family’s milk-vending enterprise venture grow.
“Until our children are a bit older and I learn how to tow the trailer myself, I’m still very glad of the support of the men, because it’s a big commitment taking it to various locations by around 7.30am every morning, replenishing the milk if we need to and then collecting it about 7pm in the evenings.”
Laura says that at Llanfair Fach, it’s Dafydd and Guto who are hands-on with the farm, the 400 cows and the twice-daily milking routine, so the enterprise will always be very much ‘all hands on deck’.
“By working as a team, we each bring our own strengths to this business, and so far, we’re all very happy with the results,” says Laura.
Cywain’s online map enables you to instantly identify local food and drink producers in Wales. Visit menterabusnes.cymru/cywain/en/our-producers/