Paul and Mary started the dairy back in 1981 with the purchase of 18 cows all milked in the stable. In the same year the couple expanded to build the milking parlour and their cow numbers grew to 60! In 1995 the herd were awarded pedigree status which gave the family immense pride as well as great successes in the Royal Isle of Wight County Show and the New Forest Show each year. The family are now milking 150 Holstein Friesians!
In response to the low milk prices in the UK, ever increasing running costs and of course the pandemic, the family decided to install a vending machine at the end of the farm lane which would ensure direct supply to the public, a fair price for the milk and support the family’s future moving forward. The family were supported by Natural Enterprise and Isle of Wight Rural fund which is a fantastic advert for these networks on the Isle of Wight, helping innovative businesses fund these initiatives.
We first discovered Cowes Milk when they were still building their hut in 2020. We had seen it pop up and were watching with intrigue, reading about it online ahead of the opening in November. We would regularly pass on the way home to Cowes from Newport and it was an exciting idea. We were becoming more aware of our own plastic waste and had already made a switch to a milk delivery service using re-useable glass bottles. The opportunity to continue this whilst supporting a local business ticked our boxes and with the added convenience of a vending machine. Now, we are sociable people, but we are also busy so the concept of being able to purchase at our convenience and not even talk to anyone is somewhat appealing, especially pre-coffee in the morning! As nice as it is to exchange small talk sometimes and discuss the weather whilst paying for our goods, sometimes we just want convenient, fast service and we are not alone.
People want convenience and they are willing to pay for it. Studies are showing that people hold the importance of convenience above brands themselves and their values. Everyone is busy, and now that more of the population are working from home, we are always connected to our work and our social media. We have filled a lot of time with technology, and it seems that we have less free time than ever.
Statistic from Smartinsights.com
As a small business ourselves, we recognise the importance of local support, so the fact that we can now get fresh milk every day from another small, local business is great. Over the past year especially, the support small businesses have received has been astounding, and perhaps we are moving towards a society where consumers would opt for this over purchasing from a national supermarket or chain store.
Supporting a local dairy also ensures that the farmers are getting a fair price for their produce and initiatives like this, from Cowes Milk break down that barrier between producers and the public.
So how does it work then?
Crockers Farm launched their new brand Cowes Milk with the installation of the hut which features a bottle and milk vending machine. First time customers will need to purchase the 1lt glass reusable bottles from one vending machine and then fill it with fresh milk from another (we’re regulars so have a good stock of bottles!). It is all easy to use and contactless; they also do a range of different milkshakes using the same technology. The bottles are reusable and so they just need a good wash at home before refilling. Click here for our eco friendly bottle brush which we have found to be perfect for the large bottles. This is certainly better than buying plastic bottles from the supermarket and seems the best option for buying local and sustainable. It does have a shorter shelf life of around 4 days but luckily, we get through plenty so that’s not an issue for us. We just need some tech that will help us remember to take a bottle with us when we go out!
Cowes Milk have also started stocking other products such as IOW cheese, local eggs and IOW butter.
We have met Lucy & Julie at the vending machine a few times now and recently had a catch up about the business and life as a farmer on the IOW.
What do you enjoy most about running a business on the Isle of Wight?
People want to support local and this has a very strong presence on the Isle of Wight, people want to buy island produce.
What do you find most challenging about running your particular business?
Learning on the job and the technology involved with the milk vending machine. It’s a whole new experience working with the public when we are used to working with animals.
What’s your favourite flavour of milkshake?
I would have to say vanilla, as it’s a family pleaser, everyone likes it, it’s a flavour I could drink daily no problem and you can add it to your cooking like pancakes.
Strawberry and chocolate are our best sellers.
What is so good about your products?
Our milk is natural, there is nothing added to it, and nothing taken away, it has just been gently pasteurised, and unprocessed in any other way, so the cream will naturally rise to the top.
People enjoy the taste and the freshness. They also enjoy the process of buying a bottle and watching the bottle be filled with milk or selecting a milkshake syrup to add to the milk and their milkshake is made there and then, they just shake to mix it together.
Milk is a necessity, and versatile – it can be drunk and cooked with, it is full of essential nutrients.
Low carbon footprint and the glass bottles are reusable, most of our milk and milkshakes sold are refills. And of course, it is island produce.
What is next for Cowes Milk?
We have 4 house flavours strawberry, chocolate, banana and vanilla and we have 2 extra dispenser pumps for different flavours which we change weekly, we are going to keep bringing out new milkshake flavours as people like to try new flavour milkshakes!
There may be room to expand in the future but this year we will concentrate on perfecting things. We would like to get the Wight Marque seal of approval.
Do you supply milk to other businesses and if so which ones?
We are very proud to produce milk for the Isle of Wight Cheese Company, this is set to expand and is extremely positive for our future.
Most of our milk stays on the island and is distributed to the island dairies to be made into dairy products.
What is your vision for the future of your company?
We want to continue to provide quality dairy produce for the Isle of Wight and the local businesses that rely on us.
I decided to make a really simple recipe using the milk to showcase the creamy flavour profile. See below where you can download the recipe and save it for later.
Crème caramel with banana ice cream and lotus biscuits.
I used small (125ml) clip top jars for this but you can use a dariole mould or similar. The advantage of using a jar is you can eat it straight from the glass and don’t have to try and tease it from the mould neatly!
150g caster sugar for the caramel
100g caster sugar for the custard
500ml Cowes Milk
1 egg yolk
- Put a thick based pan on a medium heat and wait for it to get really hot but not smoking
- Add the sugar quickly covering the base of the pan by shaking it around. Try not to stir too much or the sugar will crystalise.
- The sugar will melt quickly and will start to colour. Don’t be afraid to get it quite dark and almost burn it a little . The bubbles will form as it caramelises and they will start to ‘race’ just before they burn. Remove from the heat as soon as this happens and place two dessert spoons of the caramelised sugar into the base of each jar. Work quickly because the caramel will keep cooking in the hot pan. If you are using a metal mould be sure to grease it beforehand. Try not to get caramel over the sides.
- Mix the eggs, yolk and sugar and then boil the milk in a separate pan. When it boils, pour over the eggs and sugar mixing well.
- Pour the mix evenly across the jars/moulds and then place in a deep baking tray. If you are using jars close the lids. Pour boiling water into the tray, halfway up the jars and then place in the oven at 140C for approximately 30 minutes or until set.
- Leave to cool and then refrigerate overnight to fully set. Caramel doesn’t stay crunchy in the fridge or with moisture so it will become liquid and form the sauce for your milk pudding!
Banana ice cream and biscuits
- Peel and slice the bananas and freeze in a plastic container or jar
- Once frozen just blend the bananas in a food processor! The natural sugar in the fruit will stop it freezing too hard and will keep the mixture soft. You will have a lovely smooth and soft ice cream which is also healthy!
- Just crush the biscuits and serve with the crème caramel and ice cream.