Inner city dairy riding high

By Madeleine Brennan

In an era of rationalisation, squeezed retail margins and increased automation, a family-owned micro dairy based Melbourne’s inner north is selling fresh milk, and batch-churned butter and yoghurt to a growing number of customers in both wholesale and retail markets.

Tucked away in the hipster heartland of Fitzroy, St David Dairy is the brainchild of fourth generation Koroit dairy worker Ben Evans, who four years ago saw a gap in the market for a single origin, locally-processed milk which could be sold to the area’s buzzing café and restaurant scene.

“Moving to Melbourne from country Victoria I noticed there was another sort of food movement which was more concerned with where food was from and how it was produced,” Mr Evans told Off The Shelf.

“Both consumers and business owners were forging new ground in terms of wanting direct relationships with producers,” he said

“You could see the menus changing in cafes. It didn’t just say bacon and eggs anymore, it said where it was from.”

Initially hoping to start a cheese making business, the trained food technologist realised there was an opportunity to start a micro dairy with less capital and minimal equipment but a strong focus on quality.

“We couldn’t afford to buy a standardisation system, and a separator which would pull milk apart, put it back together and take stuff out. It didn’t interest us anyway and it turned out as a positive.”

Customers are alerted to any seasonal variation in the composition of the milk through direct conversations, email inquiries or via the company’s newsletter.

A 9 m x 5 m square area processes up to 10 000 litres of milk per day, five days a week, sourced from Glenn and Rose Atherton’s primarily Friesian herd in Drouin. Gippsland cream is sourced separately from a local cheese factory.

“All the cream ends up in our milk, which is why we needed an additional supplier for our butter and cream,” Mr Evans said.

Mr Evans says his customers are prepared to pay the estimated 5c a cup extra for quality milk.

“A lot of the cafes say that it’s so important to get the coffee right and once they do, the extra charge for milk pays for itself in more coffees sold per day.”

The rich, full flavor of the milk has already received high praise from the industry, taking out the RASV Fine Food Awards — Best In Class Trophy for its non-homogenised full cream milk last year and achieving a Gold Award for its homogenised milk at this year’s Dairy Industry Association of Australia Awards.

The yoghurt is made simply, without thickeners, gums or stabilizers, and sold in natural, organic panela (unrefined cane sugar) or vanilla and panela flavours.

“We are on trend and we popped up at the right time when the trend was getting back to basics.”

Ninety percent of St David Dairy product is sold within 9 km of the factory to restaurants, cafes and Iocal IGAs and specialty grocers. The company is exploring options for distribution in regional Victoria.

Mr Evans says the size of the site means they probably have room to grow production by another 20 per cent before he would have to start thinking about alternative sites or bigger plans, but he says he’s not getting ahead of himself.

“It’s about managing growth so you don’t lose the thing that people went to you in the first place. We’re very conscious of that.”

He’s also fully supportive of other boutique brands finding their place in the market.

“If we could get back to where there’s 100 strong local brands in Australia, it just gives everyone more options and value adds across the chain.”