Village Milk

March 2014

A company building a business around its raw milk sales

Village Milk is a dairy farm business that sells raw milk to the public via an automatic milk dispenser.

The 1981 Food Act allows farmers to sell up to five litres of milk daily to buyers who use it themselves or for their families, but the novelty and ease of refrigerated vending machines has recently made selling from the farm gate much more accessible.

The Houston’s Village Milk vending machine sells in excess of 250 litres a day in its Clifton location.

Village Milk has also developed a network of six farm-gate franchisees around New Zealand in just over a year, in Golden Bay, Lower Moutere, Hamilton, and Greymouth, Oxford and Timaru.

Mark is from a long line of dairy farmers in the Waikato. He and Phillipa were dairy farming in Canterbury. They bought a farm near Takaka for lifestyle rather than business reasons. The property is 70 ha and it is run on organic principles. It’s 6km from Takaka and close to the beach.

They milk 25 cows. They started investigating selling the milk they produce direct from the farm gate after a large number of enquiries from locals. Mark didn’t want to just sell it straight out of the vat – and didn’t want to run into any issues with Food Safety.

After extensive Google searching and a trip to Europe, Mark settled on an Italian machine that they imported in 2011. Italy differs from New Zealand in laws governing raw milk – farmers can sell their milk at dispensers in the centre of towns and cities. New Zealand advocates say raw milk producers here are disadvantaged by rules limiting sales to the farm gate.

Mark knew it would be an uphill struggle to get permission in New Zealand to sell raw milk in the city, Italian-style, but he figured he’d use the machine to exercise his right to sell milk from the farm gate. So he bought one of the automated milk dispensers for $60,000 and set it up in a newly built shed in his farmyard. The public can now buy raw milk direct from the farm any time of the day or night.

The Houstons are determined to change the image of raw milk by raising the standards of hygiene and quality. Mark says the key to their success is the extraordinary measures they take to make sure the milk is clean and free from Escherichia coli and other pathogens.

In contrast to conventional dairy farming, where the size of the herd makes individual teat-cleaning impractical, the Houstons have developed what they call the Village Milk Method, which involves washing each teat, sterilising it with an iodine spray, then wiping and drying it with a disposable towel before the milking cup is applied. Because the milk is not pasteurised, they’re determined to make sure that standards are as high as they can be.

This commitment to sanitation has impressed both customers and authorities alike. The Houstons were given full certification for their raw milk operation.

The family’s business website says pasteurisation served a very valuable purpose back in the 1920’s when tuberculosis was spreading through meat and milk. Pasteurisation enabled all the harmful bacteria to be killed but they say they don’t need to apply this process to milk now. They say their animals are TB-free and have been for decades.

They also say that pasteurisation destroys not only harmful bacteria, but beneficial bacteria as well. It also destroys enzymes, making digestion difficult for the human system. Pasteurisation makes proteins less bioavailable, and it alters amino acids and some vitamins.

Since first importing a machine from Italy, Village Milk has started franchising their operation. At last count there were 6 franchisees scattered around the country. What Mark and Phillipa offer to prospective franchisees are exclusive rights to be a Village Milk outlet for that particular area. They offer the dispensing system and training on its operation. They also offer branding and marketing via their website – promoting the milk sales of the franchises.

There are also a range of services to do with :

– Training staff on how to produce milk suitable for a Village Milk outlet

– Milk testing to ensure it is of a suitable standard. They will oversee set up prior to sale and the first day or so of use.

– Ongoing support and milk testing

– Technical backup.