Innovative Banburyshire dairy farmer beats Covid sales crisis by launching a vending machine
Innovative dairy farmer Ben Coles is avoiding the economic disaster of Covid by setting up his own milk vending operation.
Mr Coles, who keeps a 200-cow dairy herd at Park Farm in Bloxham, saw hard times ahead last year as restaurants and schools closed, demand for milk dropped and be found himself throwing thousands of gallons down the drain.
Undaunted, he set about an idea that would allow him to sell the milk direct to customers - a vending machine with refillable bottles for milk and even assorted milk-shakes.
And the result - Milkywheys - has been a resounding hit with customers who come to the dairy from miles around.
"It's been a team effort between myself, with support from my father Geoff, and our tenants Jesika Vance and Simon Hodgkinson who do the social media and website," said Mr Coles.
"It's taken an investment of around £120,000, most of which has gone on renovation of an old building to create the dairy and also to pay for the plant which had to be sourced from Germany. We bought an in-line pasteuriser, a cooling tank and a special wash station for the pods that go into the vending machines. It's very automated and it's marvellous."
Many of Mr Coles' customers have made their own small investment in one-litre glass bottles, available at the dairy, and they dispense their own milk after paying by card or cash in the automated payment system. Many of the customers visit twice or three times a week to buy fresh milk and milk-shakes.
There are even windows into the calf shed and the milking parlour so children can see the newborn calves and, at the right time of day (7am - 9am and 4.30pm - 7pm) watch milking take place.
"There's plenty of parking space. It's quietest before 10am; weekends are pretty busy," said Mr Coles. "We're hoping to install another vending machine soon to keep up with sales and reduce queues. We have a Covid-safe system - only one family at a time in the vending room, using masks and hand sanitiser is available on the wall before entering shop."
Mr Coles' cows produce 6,000 litres of milk a day and tankers take what the vending operation doesn't sell.
"There is a home for the rest of the milk so we're not throwing any away now as we were last spring," he said.
"Milkshakes are going a storm; I would say of the 300 - 500 litres we are selling a day, about 60 per cent is milk-shakes. People can come with their own clean bottle but we sell a lot of our own glass bottles which of course are re-usable. That's one of the good things about this, there is no chucking away plastic and everybody remarks on this.
"We've been very touched by the support we've been getting."
Milkywheys is open seven days a week from 7am - 7pm. Take the Tadmarton Road out of Bloxham, or off the B4035 Shipston Road and look out for two big signs for Park Farm and Milkywheys at the end of the farm drive. The dairy's website is here and the Banbury Guardian's report on Mr Coles' initial idea is here.