15 years of Fleurieu Milk
Cast your mind back 15 years to 2006. Mike Rann is South Australia’s Premier; Rob Kerin and then Iain Evans lead the Opposition. Miners Brant Webb and Todd Russell are miraculously rescued from a collapsed mine in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. For nine weeks on top of the music charts, Sandi Thom wishes she was a punk rocker with flowers in her hair.
Meanwhile, in Myponga, on South Australia’s stunning Fleurieu Peninsula, a group of farmers make history bringing their own brand of milk to market. Fleurieu Milk Company was founded by three local farming families: Geoff and Louise Hutchinson, Barry (Bazz) and Merridie Clarke, and Chris and Karen Royans. Each family had witnessed the decline in the dairy industry, as many of their neighbours being forced to wind up operations because of the decline in farmgate milk prices. They wanted to give themselves and their families a shot at a successful future in dairying and also offer something different – milk like it used to taste.
It took 18 months for the company to become accredited. Following this, the Hutchinsons and Clarkes took a hands-on role in every aspect of production to get the milk out the door. There were many long hours and overnighters spent running the plant, and capping and labelling bottles by hand. The owners didn’t pay themselves in the first year, but were able to bring on the first paid employee after 12 months. When the team grew to four or five, the factory workload finally started to ease a little and Geoffrey and Bazz could concentrate more on their farms.
Now, there are now more than 1300 outlets selling or using Fleurieu Milk. As the team grew, so did the owners’ sense of responsibility for their staff.
“We had to start thinking a bit more about it,” explains Bazz.
“[Up until then] if we made a bad decision it only affected us; if it fell over it fell over, we’d had a shot, and so be it.
This came to the fore last year, when COVID-19 hit and the cafe and hospitality industry was shuttered almost overnight. At the time, the business was selling about 50 per cent to supermarkets and 50 percent to the cafe/restaurant market.
“It was fairly doom and gloom,” says Bazz. “We had around 300 phone calls come in from pubs, restaurants and suppliers saying they’re not sure where they stood.
“We were worried about having to make people redundant.”
Fortunately, the company’s core focus on looking after employees paid them back threefold, with everyone willing to dig deep and support the business at this critical time. The hospitality sector also came back quicker than anyone expected, so what began as a very challenging time became a period of growth for Fleurieu Milk.
In 15 years, Fleurieu Milk has grown into a recognisable and sought-after brand, with its bright logos unmistakable. Initially, the humble range included a few different types of creamy white milk. Today, there are more than 50 products in the range, including flavoured milk, cream and yoghurt, in addition to the different styles and sizes of white milk. Fleurieu Milk produces 1 million litres of milk per month, which continues to increase.
Bazz plays down the impact Fleurieu Milk has had on the big dairy companies, but acknowledges they are certainly aware of Fleurieu Milk as a competitor. According to Nick, one of Fleurieu Milk’s biggest impacts has been to bring attention to the need to support local and buy local produce, alongside other local brands such as Beerenberg and Nippys.