Seven years ago, Brian McLeer was travelling in Belgium and spotted something that immediately caught his attention. It was a milk vending unit that cut out the middleman and brought fresh, pasteurised milk directly to the consumer.
The idea wouldn’t go away, and Brian has noticed the concept growing in popularity in the intervening years. Keen not to have all his eggs in one basket, he eventually made the leap and almost a year ago, Feckin Clogher Milk first saw the light of day. The name comes from the fact that Brian is a Clogherhead man, while Cency hails from Termonfeckin.
The vending unit is located in a striking shop unit on the grounds of the popular Forge Field market and is proving to be a huge hit with consumers who yearn for the old-fashioned creamy milk of their childhood. And if that’s not your thing, you can even opt for one of ten different flavours – including creme egg - broadening the appeal even further.
“We were keen not to have all our eggs in one basket, and a vending business seemed the perfect way to add a second string to our bow.”
When probed about the bold new move, Brian explains that the farm moved from beef to dairy in 2015 and currently supplies Lakeland Dairies. “We were keen not to have all our eggs in one basket, and a vending business seemed the perfect way to add a second string to our bow.”
“We sell a litre for €1.50 and a half-litre for €1. This contrasts with around 32c a litre from Lakelands, but make no mistake that the Lakelands model will always be the main driver of our operation.”
Brian estimates a payback time of around ten years on his investment and reckons that around two to three per cent of his milk is currently going straight to the consumer via the vending operation. As the consumer gets more familiar with the concept, however, he believes that there’s scope for some reasonable growth in vending sales.
Apart from the financial investment involved in the new business, Brian also cautions that the operation came with a lot of red tape from the Department of Agriculture, so it’s definitely not something to be done on a whim.
The new venture also involved its share of informal market research, and the key trigger for the public seems to be the traditional experience of milk from a glass bottle. “The cream comes to the top – particularly in the grass season – and it really is a taste of your childhood.”
“It’s also very much in keeping with the sustainable trend in food these days. We have an almost zero carbon footprint in terms of transport, and our customers are drinking a product that was milked less than four miles away.”
In terms of how the vending operation works in practice, Cency explains that it’s self-service during the week, but the outlet is manned on Saturdays – the busiest day of the week. “We’re notified through an app on the phone when the unit is running low and can top it up as often as is needed.”
Both Brian and Cency are adamant that the move has been a good one for their business and are proud to be in the vanguard of a movement that seems certain to grow in popularity over the coming years.
This story was first published in our Irish Farm Report 2023.