Raw milk venture spreading fast

PROVIDING A CHOICE: Mitch, Stu and Andrea Weir will open Village Milk in Timaru early in 2014.
PROVIDING A CHOICE: Mitch, Stu and Andrea Weir will open Village Milk in Timaru early in 2014.

A Nelson-based raw milk venture is spreading.

The latest Village Milk franchise opens for business in Timaru early next year, offering a commitment to bring fresh raw milk back to the community in a convenient and hygienic system.

Timaru farmers Stu and Andrea Weir have long been interested in the concept of fresh raw milk and were quick to initiate talks with Takaka-based Village Milk owners Richard and Mark Houston over opening a Village Milk operation on their farm in Fairview Rd.

Franchises in Lower Moutere, Cobden, Gordonton near Hamilton, and Oxford in Canterbury, are already in business, and the Houstons are fielding enquiries from other potential operators around the country.

The Weir farm of 100 hectares, plus two grazing blocks, milks about 200 mainly friesian cows at peak season.

It is very much a family operation with Stu's father and mother, Bill and Shona, keen to be part of the day-to-day activities in spite of being retired.

The cows are milked 12 months of the year, which ensures continuity of supply for raw milk customers and the farm raises its own replacements and grows supplement feed for their stock.

Mr Weir said Village Milk gives consumers the choice of filling their own containers or buying a one-litre glass milk bottle at the outlet.

"Kids on farms grew up with raw milk and increasingly consumers want to know where their food comes from, who grew it and how it arrived at the point of purchase," he said.

"We wanted to build on that demand for traceability and quality."

Apart from the attraction of being able to buy raw milk at the farmgate seven days-a-week and for about 10 to 12 hours a day, the self-service dispensers also offer an opportunity to buy a take-home glass bottle.

Mrs Weir said the bottles which, like the dispensers, are made in Italy, are reminiscent of the old-style milk bottles.

"A lot of people remember when milk came in glass bottles," she said.

"These are a nostalgic reminder of something lost for many New Zealanders.

"Village Milk also gives personal contact with the farm and the people who care for and milk the cows."

The dispensers, which are similar in appearance to a drink vending machine, will take coins or notes.

Customers can also pre-load a debit device similar to a P-drive, which will show a balance each time milk or bottles are bought.

The whole system is very user friendly, according to Mr Weir.

"Because we milk 12 months a year, the supply will be constant and the milk will never be older than 24 hours," he said.

"It will also be chilled, ensuring it is farm-fresh when purchased.

"The machine self-sterilises prior to the bottle or container being filled," he said.

The start-up of the Weir's Village Milk franchise does not mean the end of supply to Fonterra, according to Mr Weir.

"We will continue to supply to Fonterra," he said.

"With Village Milk, we operate our own risk management and testing.

"It insulates us from the vagaries of the international currency market."

Fairfax NZ