Milk vending machines or milk ‘ATMs’ are a recent innovation that allow business owners to sell milk direct to consumers in a traditional vending machine format, opening up the possibility of fresh milk sales 24/7.
In the UK, these milk vending machines have proven particularly popular in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, where supermarkets were forced to close and farmers responded by looking into more direct ways to sell their milk to customers.
As such, a milk vending machine offers the perfect solution to business owners, dairy farmers and anyone else with milk to sell on their own location and who does not want to be completely reliant on other sellers and middlemen in the sales process, as will be explained below in more depth.
How do you use a milk vending machine?
Take your own clean bottle, place it in the compartment directed for use on the machine and make sure it is under the nozzle. Pay for how much milk you need, for example £1 per litre in the UK, and wait for the milk to come out. The machine will stop dispensing automatically once done.
To operate a milk vending machine, choose the size and product (some have flavoured milk) on the touchscreen. Then pay with the card reader. After payment, insert your bottle and close the door. The machine above stopped if I pulled the handle on the door to fully open, handy if changing bottles.
The milk vending machine pictured above also displayed a full count of the milk dispensed on the screen to the right, really helpful to keep track, especially if you have a bottle that is not big enough for the full amount. After opening the door and taking your bottle out, the machine goes through an automatic cleaning process.
There was also a vending machine to the right dispensing reusable glass milk bottles, which we bought and will definitely be reusing in future! A really nice addition and, of course, another vending machine to do the job! Great stuff.
Try to use a bottle that is big enough to handle the amount of milk you buy as some milk vending machines might not have a stop button/mechanism. Check the size listed on your bottle and compare it to the units described on the machine’s front before you start buying.
How does a milk vending machine work?
Vending machine operators store fresh vats of milk in the fridge compartment and the pipe inside is then connected. This compartment is kept chilled to keep the milk fresh. The pipe here then connects to the dispensing nozzle and pumps out milk into the customer’s bottle after payment has been taken.
The video below from the Milk Station Company also explains the mechanics of how a milk vending machine works in more detail:
Benefits of Milk Vending Machines For the Business Owner
These machines provide a way to sell fresh milk direct to the consumer 24/7 using efficient technology which also takes payments in an automated like a cash machine or ‘ATM’. Milk vending machines also cut out costs from a middleman in the sale process, meaning higher return for the producer.
By having a milk vending machine as a business owner, you can therefore attract more people to your site, allowing for more direct sales of other products which can also then increase your return on those products, too.
Of course, bringing people onto your site to buy items is a business decision and therefore means you need to consider the impact, especially since some milk vending machines are available 24/7, which could encourage people to turn up in cars in the middle of the night.
There’s also the space for parking and having vehicles as I’ve seen clips and images online of people queuing to get their milk from a vending machine on a farm, which no doubt means quite a few cars at any one time.
That said, if you place the milk vending machine in the right location and keep it stocked regularly, it can be a complete game changer in terms of your business by attracting a vast amount of customers who would not otherwise have discovered your products and location.
Once they are on site, why not get them to look at all the other wonderful produce you have available and help them by offering great products at the right price. Tailoring your offer can then mean building up a direct relationship with your customers.
In fact, eBay even offer a full vending machine for farms, equipped for selling eggs, potatoes, vegetables, chilled items and other general farm produce, allowing you to keep the convenient automation of vending machines and offer a complimentary service to go along with your milk!
Milk vending machines also mean an opportunity for UK dairy farmers to sell raw milk, for which there is a large demand but is prevented by current laws and legislation in traditional retail outlets. Selling directly on site gets around this and allows customers to get their raw milk. Win win.
However, please be sure to consult your local laws and regulations before making plans to set up a raw milk or vending machine business since this is not legal advice and is not therefore sufficient evidence on which to make your decision.
Benefits of Milk Vending Machines For the Customer
Milk vending machines mean customers can buy the freshest milk from a local farm 24/7. This offers the highest quality milk available while also supporting a local business. It also satisfies anyone who wants to buy local produce and reduce the carbon footprint of their weekly grocery shopping
For rural communities, a milk vending machine also often means less time spent travelling going back and forth to the supermarket, so there is that benefit to consider, too.
How much do milk vending machines cost?
£5900 to £2400 in the UK, according to the brochure from the Milk Station Company UK. These are top-quality machines and the more expensive options cost more based on the amount of milk that they can hold and because they offer card payment technology, as well as a full exterior to house the machine.
If you have a shelter in which to house your machine and only want to offer a small amount of milk, then a cheaper milk vending option will work for you. However, if you want the convenience of contactless payment options, then you will need to spend more to offer the added convenience.
How to start a milk ‘ATM’ business?
You need a location which can handle guests and visitors, be it on private property or in a space rented from a landowner. You then need to buy a milk vending machine, costing anywhere from $6,000-10,000 (£5,800-8,300). Get your food hygiene certificates. Then a supply of fresh milk!
Depending on your location, most countries require you to have some form of food hygiene certificate and a way to prove that your produce is safe and treated with care. For this reason, having a milk vending machine on your own property is usually the best way to go for the majority of business owners.
Also contact local environmental health officials to check whether you need any further licenses from them as some jurisdictions will mean that you need these, too.
Remember, milk goes off quickly and is not to be taken lightly so make sure that you are selling with all the right knowledge and care that any food business requires. If not, not only could you cause health problems for your customers but you might also invite legal problems, too.
Usually, yes if you are going to put it up in its own shed. This may also come under the planning regulation for having a farm shop, depending on your chosen milk vending machine. You will need to call your local council once you know what machine you will use and it really is up to them from there.
You can also check out this forum thread by business owners on the planning permission needed for a milk vending machine in the UK on the Farming Forum website for more information from others in a similar situation.
Don’t be deterred, however, many farmers in the UK are currently using milk vending machines, which can be secured for your farm or site but it needs you to go through a little more paperwork than you might otherwise have liked.