“Being sustainable needs to be easy”: Modern Milkman wants the milkround to be waste- and plastic-free

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/John E. Kelly
GettyImages/John E. Kelly

Related tags Fresh milk Dairy Milk

‘Our short supply chain means the money goes directly to the farmers,’ says CEO Simon Mellin as he opens up on his company’s quest to modernize the morning milkround – and make it more sustainable for both farmers and consumers.

The milkround, i.e. getting bottles of fresh dairy milk delivered to your door at dawn, may sound like a novel ideal to the younger generation. But not only has the practice existed since the mid-19th​ century - it’s still very much alive.

Looking back, it’s remarkable how the role of the milkman has evolved across decades of technological to societal changes. This is a trade that has seen the arrival of the humble glass bottle; the advent of the refrigerator and the shift to supermarket shopping.

In recent years, largely driven by the pandemic, consumers have been turning to home grocery deliveries once again. According to Statista, demand for online grocery delivery services in the UK shot up in 2020 following moderate growth in the years prior. And despite the current economic uncertainty, the segment is still expected to generate revenue of around 12.46% CAGR to 2027.

While you won’t see milk jars at every doorstep today, at least in Britain there is healthy competition among milk delivery services that market themselves as successors to the traditional milkman. Modern Milkman is one such purveyor.

The business leverages purchasing data – so-called ‘decision intelligence’ - to optimize its service to match consumer demand with product availability. It aims to provide plastic-free, sustainable alternatives for consumers, who prefer to shop ‘little and often’ rather than stock up for the week ahead.

Speaking to DairyReporter, CEO and founder Simon Mellin said that dairy milk remains the company’s most popular offering. Modern Milkman has linked up with seven independent dairies across the UK, offering them a platform to reach all its customers, which are served by the firm’s 16 regional hubs. “We currently have the potential to serve one third of households nationwide,”​ Mellin said.

“Anyone can apply to become a supplier by visiting our website. We favor independent suppliers and British dairies that work with local British farmers, and we only accept vendors that utilize packaging that’s completely free from single-use plastic. We also require all supplier to sign a supplier charter, which addresses issues such as animal welfare.”

Cutting plastic and reducing food waste is at the heart of the business and is something that bring more than just reputational benefits to farmers – a shorter supply chain means more money in farmers’ pockets.

“We work in partnership with our suppliers to pay them fairly for their produce,”​ Mellin told us. “Our short supply chain means that the money goes directly to them – not to the middlemen.”

Dairies that sell their produce through the company’s platform include Dales Dairies in Yorkshire, Balmers Dairy, Threlfalls Dairy and Derby Hill Dairy in Lancashire, Jackson’s Dairies in Greater Manchester, Wells Farm Dairy in Stafford, and Bates Dairy in Merseyside.

‘A sense of nostalgia’

While fresh milk is the most popular product in the portfolio, Modern Milkman offers other groceries, from soft beverages to bakery products and bacon. And like other modern online food shopping services, the firm leverages technology to adjust to regional demand. “It all comes down to convenience,”​ Mellin told us. “Our doorstep delivery approach works not only for consumers, but also as a business, thanks our app. The technology used offers decision intelligence, ensuring that our regional hubs have products in stock to meet consumer demand whilst also helping to reduce waste in the supply chain.”​ Customers can add items to their order until 8pm the night before a scheduled delivery, he adds. Organizing their grocery shopping in this way means ‘avoiding impulse buying, which is so common when visiting a supermarket’. “Our repeat weekly ordering process means we can forecast and plan to reduce food waste in the supply chain, which helps our suppliers to focus on only the desired products, thus saving time, money, and waste,”​ he explained.

There’s also a conscious drive to ‘rewarding’ consumers for using the service as a way to reduce waste – the platform offers insight into how many plastic bottles each user has prevented from ending in landfill.

And of course, there’s comfort in tradition. “The milkround also offers a sense of nostalgia which is a big selling point for our customers,”​ Mellin added. “Combining these factors, with increased awareness amongst customers of how their actions can impact the planet, with the nation actively seeking ways in which they can help their sustainability efforts, we have managed to continue to grow year-on-year.”

Indeed, consumer research commissioned by Modern Milkman discovered that 75% of consumers plan on being more sustainable in 2023, while decreasing plastic consumption was the top new year’s resolution, closely followed by a desire to recycle more. “Our mission is to bring circular economy principles to the mainstream through plastic free return and reuse packaging,”​ Mellin said. “We know consumers want to do the right thing. However, with today’s busy lives, being more sustainable needs to be convenient and easy.

“We are committed to driving change and offering consumers what they want - plastic free groceries.

“At the same time, the rise in cost of living is a challenge affecting both businesses and consumers. We strongly believe in supporting our independent suppliers during this period, including British dairies, and want to give them confidence and support by paying them a fair price for their products so that they can future proof their businesses,”​ he concluded.

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