When H.P. Hood did not renew our contracts, several farmers banded together and took the plunge in creating a Maine-based organic milk company in an attempt to keep our handful of family dairy farms in business.
The challenges were daunting: We were under-capitalized from the get go, yet we had to launch when we did because several of our farmers had no other market options. We are competing against national brands with longstanding name recognition. We have no marketing budget. Most of our competitors implement ultra-high temperature pasteurization, which both aggressively de-natures milk protein and results in a shelf life five times that of MOOMilk.
Our packaging machine required $70,000 worth of upgrades, yet we and our customers were plagued with occasional leaky cartons for many weeks as we worked the glitches out, while at the same time developing new markets, trying to streamline ordering and distribution, nurturing dairy case manager relationships in existing accounts (now numbering more than 150). All this was stacked on top of running our farms and raising our families.
Despite our challenges, we were eventually able to sell 5,000 half gallons per week in Maine and New Hampshire. The product of our grassroots start up is authentic, honest, and great-tasting. The loyalty exemplified by our current customers is a devotion that money cannot buy, no matter what the marketing budget is.
We have just recently gotten the green light from Whole Foods to introduce our product to 20 of their stores in the greater Boston area. These beacons of optimism are slowly brightening a world wrought with agricultural industrialization. MOOMilk’s steady momentum and success on this front continues to boost morale despite temporarily running out of cash this week.
Flush on mission and potential, short on cash – half full or half empty? My cows are thrilled to ride on this wave called the local food mooovement, and their udders are defiantly half full and filling!
Aaron Bell and Carly DelSignore operate Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds, Maine.