A mobile vending machine which dispenses milk straight from the farm has proven to be a winning idea for a Welsh dairy farming family.
The purpose-designed trailer, emblazoned with the eye-catching branding of ‘Llaeth Llanfair’ has proved a popular attraction for customers in Ceredigion.
Milk vending machines have rapidly expanded in the UK in recent years, boosted by customers keen to avoid busy supermarkets during the pandemic.
Laura Jones of Llanfair Fach farm, her husband Dafydd and his brother Guto, farm an 800 acre dairy holding in Llanfair Clydogau near Lampeter.
The trio took their diversification ideas one step further than others when they decided to set up a mobile service, rather than positioning their vending machine within the farm boundary.
“Having a specially kitted-out trailer means that we can tow it to areas where we identify a need for this type of service, where we’re pretty confident about footfall levels and have permission from the site owners,” said Laura.
The Jones family have recently purchased their second milk vending machine ahead of the expected stream of visitors heading for the Ceredigion coastline this summer.
Each cow produces around 6,500 litres of milk per annum sold on contract to First Milk, but Laura explained that with an ever-increasing surplus year on year as more heifers are retained, she was determined to drive forward her idea of selling any excess milk direct to the public.
“I talked to other farmers already selling through vending machines and persuaded the family that we should press ahead with the project," she said.
"Although costly in terms of finance and time when you start, [it] definitely has the potential to pay back the initial investment and create a new stream of income within a relatively short time.”
Alongside buying and customising the horse box, the family also created a purpose-built facility which houses an in-line pasteuriser, close to their herringbone milking parlour.
Recognising that getting the marketing right would be a critical factor in success, Laura attended a Farming Connect diversification surgery last year with experienced marketing consultant Clare Hester of Landsker.
The hour-long one-to-one session, conducted over the telephone due to the pandemic restrictions, gave Laura her first introduction to marketing.
It focused on building up a customer base through local engagement, branding and customer awareness through flyer drops, local advertising and a presence on social media.
“Clare also directed us to Cywain, where we have built up excellent relationships with Lowri Jones, our local development manager, together with various sector-specific mentors on both financial and business planning and we’ve also received more in-depth guidance on the marketing elements.
Lowri also alerted the family to a local council grant which was available at that time, and signposted them to Food Centre Wales, who provide accredited training on technical skills and food safety qualifications.
Laura said: “Although all our meetings had to be online or over the phone because of the pandemic, we’ve learned a huge amount and found the guidance and support from both Farming Connect and Cywain invaluable."
Describing herself as an advocate of ‘girl power’, she’s now keen for more women have the confidence to ‘think outside the box’, to create sustainable new streams of income.
“Until our children are a bit older and I learn how to tow the trailer myself, I’m still very glad of the support of the men, because it’s a big commitment taking it to various locations by around 7.30am every morning, replenishing the milk if we need to and then collecting it about 7pm in the evenings.”
Laura said that at Llanfair Fach, it’s Dafydd and Guto who are hands-on with the farm, the 400 cows and the twice-daily milking routine, so the enterprise will always be very much ‘all hands on deck’.
“By working as a team, we each bring our own strengths to this business, and so far, we’re all very happy with the results,” she added.