There used to be a time in Cornwall as in the rest of the country when milk would be delivered directly to customers’ door steps and exclusively in glass bottles.
Milkmen on their funny little electric floats would trundle around towns and villages making their deliveries and picking up empties.
Milk bottles resting outside a neighbour’s front door with their distinctive coloured foil caps for full fat or semi creamed, were as commonplace as ashtrays in pubs.
The plastic revolution and the rise of supermarket shopping swept all that away and milkmen delivering glass bottled milk disappeared from our streets almost altogether.
But now glass bottled milk delivered to people’s homes is making a huge resurgence.
Clare Lillie, from Falmouth family business Lillie Brothers, said the milkman never really went away, but there’s no doubt they’re growing now faster than they have done for years.
The Falmouth business, set up in 1974 by Ms Lillie’s father and uncle, has seen a massive surge in demand for door step deliveries of milk in vintage glass bottles.
In just three weeks, the business has grown from 300 door step deliveries a week in the Falmouth area to 1,000 bottles a week last week.
In addition, the business is now expanding and is seeing 2,000 bottles a week being delivered beyond the family business’s traditional territory to Truro or Newquay.
“We’ve kept door step delivery since my dad and uncle set up the business,” Ms Lillie said. “We never stopped. But we’re expanding the service once more. We’ve seen considerable growth over the last few weeks.
“There seems to be a greater awareness of the impact of plastic on the environment. Now it seems more people are going back to vintage glass milk bottles and we’re taking more calls from customers wondering if we’re still delivering glass bottles.”
Already glass bottled milk delivered to people’s doors steps represents 25% of all milk delivered by Lillie Brothers and that market share is growing fast.
Cornwall Live joined forces with Surfers Against Sewage earlier this year to launch Plastic Free Cornwall as a rallying cry to every town, business and individual in the duchy to help win the war against plastics.
The impact of marine litter on our beautiful coastlines has galvanised many people in Cornwall to take action to reduce our plastic footprint and help clean up the resulting tidal wave of waste .
SAS want to create 125 Plastic Free communities by 2020 and as part of the Plastic Free Cornwall campaign, and Cornwall Live wants to see every town in Cornwall working this status, by appointing a leader and working up an action plan.
Young businessman Jack Gould decided to join the fight against plastic by only delivering milk to his customers in glass bottles.
Jack runs The Veg Shed and Bakery based in Camelford which describes itself as “a good old fashioned bakery bringing you local, fresh products and a range of sweet treats”.
He said: “We’ve just opened and we deliver glass bottled milk, veg, bread and eggs.
“We opened because we feel the need for plastic to be reduced in our environment so we’ve gone back in time to deliver glass bottled milk.”
Jack’s milk round has already proved a hit selling 90 pints in its first two days and he has cut back on plastic for his other deliveries as well.
He said: “I do is reuse everything, even if the suppliers do send me plastic. All my crates are reused, they’re made from wood and are sturdy enough.
“Hopefully this is the start of something interesting. We’re trying to get all of our plastic stopped, we’re asking our suppliers not to give us plastic bags. We’d rather them be in paper like they used to be as it’s much better on the environment.”
It’s the same picture for Mark and Isobelle Delbridge, Cornwall Council farmer tenants at Plushayes Farm near Liskeard.
The young farmers bought the herd of 30 cows last summer and a customer base of around 500 people in South East Cornwall.
However while the couple used to receive a handful of inquiries a week about doorstep deliveries of glass bottled milk they now have a waiting list and their customer list has boomed to 750 people getting twice weekly deliveries.
Their company, Green Cow Dairy, is unique in the area as it is the only dairy farm producing, processing, bottling and delivering its own cows’ milk direct to customers.
Mrs Delbridge said that while the couple had no intention of growing to the size of bigger dairy businesses, such as Trewithen Dairy, they had seen a massive demand for glass bottled milk.
“There has been a massive surge in demand for it,” she said. “It’s a lot to do with publicity around plastic and also because there are still many people out there who don’t know that milk can be delivered in glass bottles straight to their doorstep.
“For us, it has boomed. We have a waiting list of people. It seems people concerned about plastic issues are not just talking about it but following through with it and wanting to take action.”
The change is taking its time to filter down to some of the bigger organisations though and there are challenge in getting larger companies to switch away from plastic.
The Royal Cornwall Hospital buy in 122litres of milk a day in plastic bottles as it is easier and safer to store in a medical environment than 480 glass bottles would be.
For small and large businesses, from Lillie Brothers and its 15 staff or Green Cow Dairy and its two full time equivalent staff to Milk & More, which was acquired by Muller from Dairy Crest two years ago, both doorstep delivery and glass bottles are not just a good thing for the environment, it’s also big business that’s only getting bigger.
Cost and convenience may remain an issue for some customers before they switch to glass bottle doorstep deliveries – Green Cow Dairy sells its milk in one-pint glass bottles for 65p while Lillie Brothers sell there for 75p a pint and 80p for organic, all of them believe the future for glass bottles is bright.
Fresh juice, flavoured milk and sauces are also selling well in glass bottles and demand is growing for such products.
A spokesman for Muller, which has owned Milk&More since December 2015, also confirmed the demand for glass bottled milk door step deliveries.
He said: “Since the start of the year, we have indeed seen a significant increase in both traffic to our website and customers interested in having their milk delivered by our doorstep delivery service.
“In particular, we are seeing an increase in both new and existing customers wanting milk in our iconic glass bottles. In Cornwall alone, we have attracted more than 200 new customers in the last month.
“Nationwide, 60% of Milk&More’s milk deliveries are in our iconic glass bottles – each of which can be reused up to 25 times.”
The firm has 7,500 customers in Cornwall and its milkmen deliver milk and lots more besides to them on an every-other-day basis not only to residents but to schools and community groups and small convenience shops.
The spokesman added: “People are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental footprint and they want to take whatever steps they can to minimise their impact on the environment.
“We believe also that the recent publicity has reignited people’s love affair with the great British milkman and their desire to have milk delivered to their doorstep. ”
The feeling is shared by both Green Cow Dairy and Lillie Brothers who feel the trend for glass is just the beginning and the milkman is back.
“It is not for everyone but there is definitely a lot of demand for milk in glass bottles out there,” said Mrs Delbridge. “I think it’s just the beginning.
“I would love to see supermarkets get in on it and offer a facility where people can just come on and refill their own container with fresh milk.”
By: Olivier Vergnault
Source: Cornwall Live