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Boora Bainne

Boora Bainne Milk Company – a dairy company with an interesting twist – kicks off today (Friday, July 30), as it opens its milk vending machine service to the public to get milk – fresh from the cow.

The company is the creation of Offaly dairy farmer Paul Molloy on his farm, located in Boora, Co. Offaly, near the well-known local tourist attraction Lough Boora Discovery Park, on the road between Blue Ball and Cloghan.

Opening at 10:00a.m this morning, the Boora Bainne project is the culmination of months of hard work and preparation to offer consumers the freshest milk possible.

Speaking to Agriland, Paul explained how the idea came about, as he looked into farm diversification:

“I was actually looking at different alternatives that I could do here on the farm and I couldn’t really find one that would generate enough money to make it worthwhile.

“I travelled up to one in the North last August and I was happy enough; I said I’d take it further so I went across to England, to Somerset, last September to look at set-ups over there. I spent two days looking at different models and different pasteurising set-ups.

“One farmer was putting about 2,000L a day through vending machines – he had one on the farm and some in Bath and another in Bristol, in the bigger cities down around Somerset.”

In terms of the setup that Paul settled on, the dairy farmer explained that there is one milk dispenser – equipped to sell both milk and milkshakes – and a vending machine dispensing reusable glass bottles. Both accept debit card.

Milk from the machine is priced at €1.50/L and the reusable glass bottles are €3 each.

Explaining that, while the concept is fairly simple, the logistics provide more of a challenge, Paul said:

“Some people had integrated machines selling milkshakes and putting flavours through the milk. The machine I bought was from a UK company. They’re made out in Somerset as well – the Daisy vending machine.

“It has four integrated flavours in it [for milkshakes] that are interchangeable. There’s three set flavours: strawberry; chocolate; and banana – and then there’s what they call the rotating flavour, you change it every week to keep the social media thing fresh.”

The machines are located in a little wooden hut that Paul built. Meanwhile, the milk is pasteurised in a little room located beside the milking parlour.

“The milk goes out when we’re milking in the morning; it’s taken directly off the line. It’s more efficient than cooling the milk and then having to heat it back up again,” Paul explained.

“It goes into the pasteuriser at 35° and it goes up to the Critical Control Point (CCP) of 63° for 30 minutes. That’s working away when I’m milking. I do it at the start of milking or during milking. That machine cools it when it reaches the CCP, it starts cooling then.

“Then the milk is filtered, goes into two little containers; I got two 100L containers with wheels on them. The box is filled and brought over into the chilled vending machine then.”

Paul, who milks 130 New Zealand-Friesian-Jersey-cross cows, intends on seeing what demand is like for the machine, with the rest going to the co-op.

“I don’t know what the demand will be but anyone I’ve talked to – weekend demand is about twice what weekday demand is – but most people I’ve talked to have probably underestimated the amount they sold or thought they were going to sell, and ended up updating the machine after the first year.”

In addition, the sustainable approach of the reusable glass bottles is proving to be a good selling point, with interest voiced from local cafes and zero-waste shops.

When asked what the plans are going forward, the Boora Bainne businessman was clear: “The only focus I have really is to maintain quality.

“The number one focus I have is not on sales, just quality. I’m going to focus on the product and hopefully it’ll sell itself.

“A lot of people get caught up with it and think it’s a quick buck – but when you get into it, you’ll see it’s different from farming. You’re supplying a ready-to-eat/drink product; it’s a different kind of standard really.”

In terms of advice for those thinking of taking a similar path, the Offaly farmer stressed the importance of getting in a good food safety consultant – in his case local consultant Jolene Minogue:

“I don’t think I would have been able to deal with all the legislation and requirements myself. You just wouldn’t unless you’re trained in that business.”

In terms of costings, it is not a cheap venture:

“I started with some second-hand equipment, the pasteuriser, and did most of the work myself – but if someone was looking at setting up and had to build a greenfield pasteurising site, you wouldn’t feel €100,000 going on that kind of a project.

“It didn’t cost me that but still, you could expect between €70,000 and €100,000.

“It’s not just a ‘quick buck’ sort of a thing; there’s a fair commitment in it.

“If anyone is thinking of it, it’s not just something you’re going to set up, leave there and walk away from – it’s labour intensive for the first while anyway until people get used to the concept.

“For the first month or two there will be someone standing with it; I’ll see how it goes,” Paul concluded.

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