YOU probably wouldn’t expect to see a dairy factory right in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD, but just off Brunswick Street is a small, boutique dairy that supplies milk to hundreds of small businesses in the area.
While the business has built a lot of traction since it opened four years ago, Saint David Dairy owner Ben Evans said breaking into the already populated marketplace was no easy feat.
“You know that every cafe in Australia already has milk in it, so why would they choose yours?” Mr Evans said.
He said he soon came up with an answer to that question – “the story”.
“From early on, I decided I liked the idea of having my own little factory, and when I moved to Melbourne, I realised that people were starting to take a lot more notice in where their food was coming from, and supporting local businesses, not just going for the big, powerful companies,” he said.
“I just saw more and more boutique brands popping up, which gave me the idea that we might be able to start something in Melbourne, and after a fair few years of planning, we found this little factory in Fitzroy, and it all just went from there.”
They pick milk up from a dairy farm at Drouin, Vic, about 100 kilometres away from the factory.
“A lot of people ask questions about where the milk comes from, what the cows are fed, what the practices are on the farm, so it was really important for us to have a relationship with the farm,” he said.
“That was the last piece of the story.”
He said while the factory’s location may seem impractical, it’s been a good way to raise awareness.
“I think it was a point of interest in Fitzroy, to be right in front of people, and having them see the trucks pull up, and the milk pump in,” he said.
“It would have given people a sense of where the milk in their coffee was coming from.”
However, he said at the end of the day, the milk needs to be of top quality.
“The story and location got people interested enough to have a chat, but the milk had to stand up for itself in terms of quality,” he said.
“We were lucky to have a few local businesses that supported us right away, and in Melbourne, there are a lot of coffee places that watch what other coffee places are doing, so we were able to grow by word of mouth.”
He said part of the appeal is that the milk is not standardised.
“However the milk comes from the farm, is how it is put in the bottle,” he said.
“It means that at different times of the year, the milk might be slightly different, for example, this time of year, we’ve got higher fat and protein than what we do in spring, and other companies might try to flatten that out, but we prefer to do as little as possible to it.”
Saint David Dairy was awarded Best Milk in Australia at the 2016 Fine Food Awards.
“To a lot of people, all milk is just the same, but to us, it’s certainly good milk,” he said.
“It was really good to get recognised like that.”
Mr Evans said while a lot has changed since they first started, everything is still just as busy.
“At the start, I used to bottle it up at night with my wife, and drop it off in the mornings, obviously that’s changed now, but the factory guys start at 5am, and we’ve got some drivers who’ll be on the road from 3am,” he said.
“It’s a busy daily routine, that’s for sure.”
He said they do plan to grow their delivery zone, but the main focus is staying true to the story.
“When we first started, we never really wanted to be a big business, we’ve just grown steadily,” he said.
“We get excited that more people want to work with us and use our products, but we want to make sure we maintain all the values that we stand for.
“We want to have a close relationship with our producers, and be an open book when it comes to the process and how it’s all made.”