That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Michael Keating (43), Tinegeeragh, Loughrea, Co Galway of Natural Milk Company in this week’s dairy farming focus.
Natural Milk Company are providers of natural organic unpasteurised, unhomogenised, unprocessed raw cow’s milk and kefir.
Keating sources milk from a network of licenced organic dairy farmers and DAFM-registered raw milk suppliers, which he sells to over 50 shops nationwide.
“My interest in raw milk arose due to my own stomach issues, and I found it hard to digest pasteurised milk.
When I investigated possible alternatives, raw milk seemed to come up regularly.
I started to try to source organic raw milk in my local shops, but it proved difficult to find.
I used organic raw milk to make kefir – a fermented milk drink – at home and found it a great help.
This led me to establish Natural Milk Company, which involves souring milk from certified organic dairy farmers and retailing in shops.
All our milk comes from cows that are out on grass for most of the year, which results in tastier milk and happier cows.
Natural Milk Company
Our milk is unpasteurised and unhomogenised, with up to three inches of cream sitting on top of the milk in each bottle. The extra cream in our milk gives a delicious full flavour to the milk.
We supply several shops – approximately 50 – with our milk, mostly in Galway, Clare, Limerick, Westmeath, Dublin, and Wicklow. They have been very good to us and are delighted with our product.
However, we do not sell direct to consumers, so they can buy our milk in any of our stockists, which works best for our business.
We started the business in a very small way in late 2018, but it really only started in earnest in January 2019.
It has grown steadily since then, as we have increased our stockists and territory.
Raw milk is basically milk in its natural state, which has not been processed in any way. Therefore, raw milk contains all the good bacteria and enzymes which are present in milk that comes straight from the cow.
Milk that has been processed and pasteurised does not contain these good bacteria and enzymes.
Raw milk is often referred to as a complete food and is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals.
Some of our customers tell us that they buy our milk for the rich taste and love the inches of cream sitting on top of each bottle of milk, while others find it easier to digest than pasteurised milk.
Everyone has their own reason for buying our milk, and we try to ensure it is available when they want it.
Demand for raw milk is growing; however, it still is a niche product and has a core group of loyal customers.
I feel it is very important that raw milk is available to people who want it, and I hope to see more foods on the shelves made from simple organic ingredients.
Elizabeth Ryan has done great work promoting raw milk in Ireland. We feel there is a strong demand for simple, quality organic products here in Ireland.
I believe more needs to be done to support small food businesses in bringing these products to the market.
Our farmers have to get the raw milk licence as milk is bottled on-farm, and it is a rigorous process.
However, if the farmer has the right mindset, it is very achievable and financially worthwhile.
There are only a few registered raw milk producers in Ireland, and they follow strict guidelines to ensure quality control.
We have a new unit to wash bottles and produce new products based at home in Tinegeeragh. The more bottles we get back, the better, as it will reduce our packaging costs and help the environment.
The cost of diesel is a significant problem for all small businesses.
Glass packaging, which we use, has many benefits but is expensive compared to other packaging materials.
We have changed our labels specifically to allow us to accept empty bottles back, to wash and reuse, which is proving very popular with our customers.
We package organic milk in 1L glass bottles and package organic raw kefir – which is considered one of the most powerful natural probiotics available – in 500ml glass bottles.
Price and stockists
Furthermore, we always print the origin of the milk on each bottle to ensure traceability.
The milk retails for approximately €3.00 in shops at the moment, after a price increase due to our own costs rising rapidly.
We have a list of stockists on our website – www.naturalmilkcompany.ie – for anyone looking to try our organic raw milk.
Or they can contact us directly to find their nearest stockist; our contact details are also on the website.
Currently, we are researching and developing packaging for the new products we will launch.
Environmental and sustainability are high up on the list of priorities when deciding on which packaging to use.
This has been a worthwhile venture, although it has been extremely difficult to get it to the current level.
There have been a lot of obstacles to overcome and producing a quality product like ours, where the milk can be on the shelf within hours of milking.
This requires dedication and hard work both from the farmer and on the sales and distribution end.
However, the extremely positive feedback from our customers helps us keep going.
Now, we need to secure a second farmer to supply us with raw milk, especially during the winter months and some bulk milk when we start producing the new dairy products.
Giuseppe – who has joined our production development team – and I have been working on these new products for months. The feedback from the samples we gave out was very exciting.
Giuseppe is passionate about cheese and food and has a similar outlook on food to mine.
He is originally from Italy near Naples but has been living in Ireland for the last few years.
New product ranges
In the coming years, we hope to add a few quality organic dairy products to our range in the near future and are currently working on some exciting products, so watch this space.
After that, we would like to branch out into non-dairy products, again organic and using only natural ingredients, possibly diet-specific foods.
Overall, it has been a rollercoaster with ups and plenty of downs too. I have a clear vision of what I want to achieve and need to work hard to get there.
Raw milk needs to be respected, not feared, as it is a great food if produced properly.
I want to thank everyone who has helped us so far to get to this point, especially Sean (farmer), Giuseppe (product development), Miriam (planning), Colin (organics) and all our stockists and customers, but also anyone who has helped in any way.”
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