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The Udder Stuff

The Udder Stuff

Written by Stella Nicholls 

Photos provided by Emily Ackland 

A queue of people circling around The Cranberry Farm Car Park caught my eye on a recent visit to Cranbrook.  That’, said my daughter in response to my quizzical expression, ‘Is a delicious, creamy milkshake dispenser’.  

‘Really?’ I replied, ‘No wonder there is a queue!’

And that was my first impression of The Udder Stuff, which, it turns out, is not only a milkshake dispenser but offers fresh farm milk too. 

We, at Grow, were excited to catch up with local entrepreneur, Emily Ackland, and ask her all about this novel new idea.  I mean, we’ve heard of coffee, crisps and sweet dispensing machines, but fresh farm milk?  That’s taking it to a whole new level! 

Emily grew up on the family dairy, beef and arable farm which is about ten minutes away from Exeter.  Her dad and grandad both grew up there too, which means that farming has been in her family’s blood for generations.  Besides the farm, Emily’s passion is food marketing.  She said, ‘I wouldn’t have said mum and dad ever pressurised us into doing any sort of farming.  My sister, Kate, and I are both naturally interested in farming; she ended up going to Harper Adams Uni to do farming; whereas I went to Reading Uni to do food marketing.’ 

It was at Reading Uni, which has a dairy farm alongside it, that Emily was first inspired towards her current business venture.  The students were asked to undertake a project on how best they could sell the fresh farm milk to the campus; without actually having to deliver it to the door. 

Emily and three other students worked on the project and discovered milk vending machines.  Naturally, Emily’s dairy farm background worked to her advantage, and she remembers thinking, ‘Hmmm, this could be interesting!’  She’d always thought her interest in food marketing would take the direction of a farm shop but the milk dispenser had sparked other ideas.  At the time, there were only three machines in the country but the seed to start a new business had been planted. 

It was to remain no more than an idea for some time though, as when Emily left Uni, she headed to London.   It was here that she worked as part of a year-long grad team for Sainsbury’s.  The aim of the agricultural grad team was to look after the farmers and growers who supply Sainsbury’s.  Many people aren’t aware that such teams exist and one of the team members even commented, ‘I don’t really get what farming has got to do with Sainsbury’s?’. 

Emily was quick to realise that there is a percentage of the population who don’t know about the hard work that goes into farming.  That often there is a disconnect between farming – the work that goes into producing the food by the farmer – and the plate of meat and veggies that ultimately ends up on our tables. 

She said, ‘People tend to disassociate the milk they pick up in a supermarket to a farm – it just comes out of a bottle.  An egg comes out of a carton.  There’s a stat that around 30% of children don’t know that milk comes from cows. It seems strange, growing up in Devon, not to know about that but if you grow up in the city, how would you know if you hadn’t been told?’ 

Which led to Emily wanting to make people more aware of where their food comes from.  Cranbrook seemed the ideal spot to place a milk dispenser, being a new town with a great sense of community. It’s also close to farms but is not quite rural. ‘I thought that it was a really nice spot for lots of young families who can see cows in the fields around and say to their children “You see those cows?  That’s where this milk comes from”’. 

She managed to get her milk dispenser machine quite quickly from a man who designed and built the original model from scratch.  He’s based in Somerset and when Emily first contacted him, he was only receiving an order every now and then. He now has hundreds of machines on backorder.   

She emailed the MD of The Cranberry Farm pub in Cranbrook to put across a proposal.  Hall and Woodhouse, a company based in Dorset that owns The Cranberry Farm, have a business ethos based on family-run and community.  They were incredibly supportive of Emily’s idea.  Emily smiled and said, ‘They responded with, “Yeah crack on!”’. 

On the day the machine ‘went live’, Emily waited nervously to see what the public response would be. 

‘Part of me thought, what happens if no one turns up?  I’ve had this little idea but it might end up just being a machine in the pub car park which no one’s going to ever turn up and use.  But yeah, people were soon queueing up!’.  Needless to say, the launch of The Udder Stuff was a resounding success. 

It hasn’t all been plain sailing.  Emily, who pasteurizes the milk each morning before dropping it off, has had a few inevitable technical issues.  The day that she was due to launch, she shut the wrong tap on the pasteuriser which blew up the main pump and resulted in milk spraying everywhere. She said, ‘I stood there and thought, maybe we’ll open tomorrow!’. 

The speed at which the milk bottles were being depleted, when she first launched, was also incredible.  She’d just get back home, having replenished the stock of glass bottles, when she’d get a message to say that they were finished again. Happily, it has settled down into a natural rhythm now, as life so often does. It’s manageable and she loves it.    

 As for how well the machine has been received? Emily sometimes arrives to find people who have helped by giving the machine a wipe over or have changed the bin. She said, ‘The people in Cranbrook have been amazing and really taken ownership of it’. They love the fresh creamy milk that comes from the Jersey cross Friesian cows on Emily’s farm.  

When we went to try out the tasty milkshakes, we couldn’t help but notice the spirit of togetherness that seems to exist in Cranbrook.  A sense of community, brought about by the inhabitants and people like Emily, who want to bring goodness to the world. 

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