Over the years, home milk delivery has become exceedingly rare.
The milkman has been disappearing from daily life since the 1950s, when refrigerators started becoming more common in American homes. And the advent of cheap milk in grocery stores didn’t help much. But the milkman (and woman) is now making a comeback in America, as companies that deliver milk right to your door have experienced a resurgence during the pandemic.
Since stay-at-home orders were implemented in mid-March, milk delivery companies have seen demand explode. For Angie Rondolet, the founder of Cow Belle, that has meant tripling the amount of milk she delivers in a week.
Rondolet started her Pennsylvania-based milk delivery service in 2016. She hoped at the time that others might be longing for the old-school authenticity of locally produced milk, hand delivered in a glass bottle with some conversation at the door. And they have. Her business had gradually grown to the point she was making 120 deliveries each week, but things have really taken off since the pandemic hit. Her company is now delivering to 360 homes a week.
Rondolet and her husband started distributing the orders on their own for the first few weeks, but business has been so busy that they had to hire two additional employees to help out. “I was literally pulling over to nap to continue to try to get everybody delivered and to try to help out as many people as I could,” she says.
The recent demand for home delivery has brought the resurgence of the milkman (or milklady in Rondolet’s case) into American homes. Distributors providing this service have been a key link between consumers and local farmers who might otherwise be forced to dump their product with pandemic derailing traditional supply chains.
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, Douglas Wade Jr., decided to bring home delivery back when the pandemic started. His distribution company, Wade’s Dairy, stopped doing doorstep drop-offs for households in 1992. But when they started getting calls from local residents asking if they could ship them milk and groceries, Wade says they started to rethink their operations.
“After the schools shut down, COVID-19 really hits everyone’s radar,” he says. “And when those calls come in often enough, you start saying, ‘Oh, my goodness, could this be a model for our business going forward or a new avenue for selling milk?’”
The revival of home delivery has also helped Wade offset some of the lost costs he’s experienced from markets he was shipping to such as schools, restaurants and corporate cafeterias. When those closed, he says he lost about 50 percent of his business overnight. Right now, he’s been able to serve about 260 homes in his area.
Daryl Mast, a seventh generation farmer and owner of Doorstep Dairy, also never expected his business to change the way it has. Home delivery customers, he says, have tripled over a four-week span. He also has a waiting list of more than 300 people who want dairy and other homegrown products sent to them directly.
“We’re just a small mom and pop business,” he says. “We weren’t prepared for something like this.”
To stay on top of the orders he’s able to manage, Mast has also hired extra staff and has been in the process of looking for an additional driver.
The lingering question, however, that all three business owners have faced is whether or not the demand for the milkman will last. Rondolet says she’s optimistic that the customer base she’s built organically will at least remain loyal. Despite the desire to stay away from the grocery store, she believes that she’ll also maintain some of her new customers who have gained an understanding and appreciation for local farmers in their community.
“People tell me ‘the fact that you’re even out there doing this means a lot to us,’” she says. “You get hooked on the product and you love it and, you know, that’s now one less thing you need to get at the store.”