A horsebox made by Europe’s largest trailer maker has been converted into the UK’s first mobile vending machine selling fresh milk and cheese in rural communities.
With doorstep deliveries largely a thing of the past, he innovative idea has been developed at Thorngarth Home Farm in Aysgarth, North Yorkshire, using a HB506 model from Ifor Williams Trailers.
The venture, known as The Home Farmer, offers customers the chance to self-serve whole milk into glass bottles and enjoy the taste of milk produced from the family’s 80-strong herd of cows.
The mobile shop travels across the villages of Wensleydale delivering fresh, gently pasteurised milk “with the cream still on the top” across the Yorkshire Dales which residents can simply help themselves to with the aid of a vending machine-style payment system.
And now, thanks to a special partnership with Wensleydale Creamery which produces the world famous Wensleydale cheese, the business is about to launch its own brand of handcrafted raw milk cheese which will be sold alongside milk in the new mobile shop.
Andrew Reece-Jones, the Design Engineering Manager at Ifor Williams Trailers, is delighted the mobile milk unit is proving such a big hit.
“This is a brilliant concept benefitting the communities surrounding Wensleydale,” he said.
“The possibilities are endless with our versatile and well-designed trailers and this conversion is proof that when it comes to mobile businesses, the sky is the limit with Ifor Williams trailers.”
Ben Spence, who runs The Home Farmer alongside his brother Adam, 29, and dad David, 65, said the idea evolved from the farm’s ambition to develop an honest brand with 100 per cent traceability.
“The aim of the vending machine was to try and put a brand on our milk instead of producing milk which no one knows where it comes from or the quality standards used to produce it,” said the 31-year-old.
“All the locals know where our milk comes from; it’s fresh from the cows down the road and in the tank within 48 hours. It’s about trying to distinguish our milk from the supermarket milk.
“Our milk is gently pasteurised to retain as much of the flavour of raw milk as we possibly can. The cream will still settle on the top and people seem to like the taste because it’s a lot fresher and nicer. We wanted it to be as close to fresh from the cow as possible.
“The vending machine sits inside of the trailer and people come and help themselves to either one or two litre bottles.
“It’s a community service we are providing to local people.”
The milk is produced at the family farm at Thorngarth Home Farm in Aysgarth, originally bought by Ben and Adam’s grandfather Harold Spence.
Alongside the mobile vending machine, the farm has invested in a new parlour and cubical shed to maximise the welfare of its 80-strong herd.
“We’ve built a modern shed for modern standards,” said Ben, who lives with his wife Samantha, who was heavily involved in the launch of the vending machine, and two young children.
“Animal welfare is very important to us as a farm and it is important our customers know how our animals are looked after.
“The cows graze for eight months of the year but for winter we wanted a shed which was nice and comfortable with mattresses to sleep on.”
The vending machine has been built inside the HB506 and cleverly conceals a 150litre tank. Customers can help themselves to plastic or glass bottles of one or two litres at £1 per litre and those with a pre-paid “loyalty key” benefit from a 10p discount per litre.
When it came to choosing a trailer manufacturer for their new venture, durability and reliability were paramount to the farmers.
“We’ve always had Ifor Williams trailers on the farm and so you tend to stick with what you know,” explained Ben.
“They always seem reliable and they’re very good value for money.”
Stephanie Foster, managing director of Cumbria-based Alan Tuer Trailers, explained that The Home Farmer contacted them late last year with a view to buying a trailer which it could convert into a mobile milk vending machine.
She said: “They needed a trailer with no internal partitions or a front ramp and so were able to accommodate.
“The HB506 adapted very well to their needs. It was the right size for a start and this model was the most suitable for utilising as a mobile shop.
“It is probably one of the most unusual sales we’ve had but it just shows the versatility of the Ifor Williams Trailers fleet. It’s also strong and robust and can cope with everything it needs to. This is why it’s so appealing.
“The milk shop will be travelling a bit of a distance and so we were only too happy to help by supplying a strong and reliable vehicle well capable of doing the job.”
The farm, which employed local craftsmen to carry out its conversion project, has been surprised at the extent of the demand for the new service.
Ben added: “We were surprised at the extent of the demand for the new service. What started out as a side line has now become a focal part of the business.
“Although we are by no means the first to create a milk vending machine, as far as I know we are the first to put it in a trailer and tow it around.
“It must be going down well because we keep selling out!”
The success of the mobile milk machine has enabled them to move forward with plans to produce their own brand of cheese.
The farm already supplies milk to nearby Wensleydale Creamery and has been working on a new recipe alongside the company’s expert cheesemakers which will be launched soon.
“We obviously wanted to develop something new and they suggested a raw milk cheese which is completely different to their own brand,” explained Ben.
“We are currently working in collaboration with Wensleydale Creamery to develop the idea. It’s a completely new venture for us and will be sold alongside our milk.”
Once the new recipe is perfected, the farm will be selling cheese in its new vending machine.