29 Jul 2018

Milk in glass bottles: a pint of nostalgia

From Sunday Morning, 8:37 am on 29 July 2018

Widespread home delivery of milk in glass bottles stopped in the mid-1990s, but there are still some dairy farmers selling milk the old way, and finding a market for it.

Glass milk bottles were replaced by cartons in 1989, then plastic bottles replaced cartons, before the milk delivery largely became a thing of the past. 

Gavin Hogarth and Daisy at Bella Vacca farm in Kawakawa

Gavin Hogarth and Daisy at Bella Vacca farm in Kawakawa Photo: Supplied

Beth Henderson from Henderson Dairy Farm in Gore sells milks under the brand Farm Fresh Raw Milk. and she says plastic was never an option for her business.

"We've never considered using anything but glass bottles because they're reusable, people have wanted it and the demand is growing for it."

Henderson Dairy home-delivers twice a week to residents within the Gore town boundary.

It operates a token system - one token equals one bottle of milk - so customers aren't scratching around for the right money on delivery day.

Julian Raine runs the Oakland Farm and Aunt Jean's Dairy brands in Nelson - Oaklands Farm has been operating since 1844 and supplying milk to the area in one form or another for 80 years.

Raine established the Oakland Farm brand in 2013.

"We started by importing [milk] vending machines then very quickly we found not only was it popular but some of the cafes and restaurants were coming to our vending machines and filling up glass bottles."

The company then started delivery to restaurants which evolved into a home delivery service.

Beth Henderson of Farm Fresh Milk in Gore

Beth Henderson of Farm Fresh Milk in Gore Photo: Supplied

"Then we were contacted by one of our old vendors and he's started up a home delivery round using our milk, so it's sort of snowballed."

Beth Henderson says the packaging itself is a selling point, and she says another interest for customers is raw milk.

"I've found that a lot of our customers are buying it because it's in glass bottles and they want it that way."

Gavin Hogarth runs Bella Vacca in Kawakawa and was the first company to bring glass bottles back to Northland.

Bella Vacca makes home deliveries to as far north as Pahia in the Bay of Islands four days a week, and its pasteurised milk goes to shops.

Hogarth says sourcing quality glass bottles is the key.

"We'd rather buy good-quality glass bottles that are going to last and do a lot of trips.

"To make a glass bottle, it's a big cost to the environment compared to a plastic one, [but] if we can get 50 to 100 trips out of a glass bottle then that cost is negligible."

Julian Raine

Julian Raine Photo: Supplied

Oaklands uses returnable as well as recyclable bottles.

"Aunt Jean's is a recyclable bottle, Oaklands Milk is a returnable bottle where we wash it, sterilise it and refill it.

"We've got some bottles that have been around, we estimate, three or four hundred times."

Oaklands uses OI glass, the only glass manufacturer in New Zealand making glass bottles.

Gavin Hogarth says sourcing quality bottles can be a problem.

"We'll ring up to order and he says there won't be any in the country till next month so it's a battle when you're trying to grow a business."

Julian Raine says the market for milk in glass is likely to remain niche.

"Supermarkets struggle for with to bring a bottle back, they don't want to handle a credit for customers and trying to keep track of it is a nightmare for them."

Hogarth says he only works with owner operators who are willing to buy in to the idea of selling milk in glass.

He thinks his pasteurised milk operation is viable as a glass packaged product in the long term but doubts New Zealand will make a complete return to the 1980s-style delivery system.

"The whole infrastructure that was there has gone. In the old days you had little bottling plants scattered all over the country, every second town had a bottling plant."

A Fonterra spokesperson told RNZ that all of its plastic milk bottles are recycled and turn up in things such as milk crates, rubbish bins, roof tiles and furniture. 

It says there is not great infrastructure for processing reusable glass bottles in New Zealand and plastic bottles are safer than glass and not as heavy, which reduces carbon emissions when transported.