A Far North dairy farming couple are leading the way back to the future by returning to selling milk in glass bottles.
Milk produced and bottled by Jody Hansen and Gavin Hogarth is already sold in one-litre glass bottles under their brand, Bella Vacca Jerseys, at more than 30 outlets as far away as Auckland, but they're not stopping there. The next step in their plans is to bring back home deliveries, initially through online orders in the Bay of Islands, Whangārei and Auckland.
The couple have been sharemilking on a Goodhue family farm at Pokapu, near Moerewa, for the past nine seasons. They currently have a herd of 160 Jerseys.
A drop in the Fonterra milk payout about three years ago forced Jody to seek accounting work off the farm to make ends meet, and prompted her and Gavin to rethink the business.
"We weren't making money, we were going to have to borrow just to keep farming," she said.
"We thought, let's move from being price-takers to having some control over the income we get from our milk."
Unable to compete on price with supermarket brands, they opted to sell their own milk in glass bottles, both as a point of difference and to be kinder to the environment. Their milk is pasteurised, but not homogenised or standardised.
The couple began with a 300-litre pasteuriser, selling their first bottles in May last year from what was then Nosh, in Waipapa. They have since upgraded to a 500-litre pasteuriser, and now supply 34 outlets, including butchers, greengrocers and markets, between Houhora and Auckland.
They also supply cafes with milk in plastic pails, which are sterilised and re-used.
A new 1000-litre pasteuriser is due to arrive from Greece in November to handle growing demand.
"People love it. The older generation remember glass bottles, the younger generation love it because it's not plastic," Jody said.
While any money they've made so far has been ploughed back into the business, she no longer has to work full-time off the farm, and they have employed three full-time and two part-time helpers.
It's a labour-intensive business because the bottles are washed, sterilised and filled by hand. Each bottle can be re-used about 50 times.
"A bottling machine that can do it faster than us costs as much as a house," she added.
Gavin said they were currently producing 20,000 litres of milk a month.
"That's 250,000 plastic bottles a year that don't even have to be made. We just can't keep living the throw-away society," he said.
The couple hope to start home milk deliveries, combined with honey, meat, fruit and vegetables, in the next 18 months.