Lancashire’s The Modern Milkman saves 8m plastic bottles from use

Alistair Hardaker's picture
by Alistair Hardaker
The Modern Milkman

Milkmen and their iconic glass bottles became a mainstay in England from the mid-1800s, but in recent decades have lost ground to supermarkets and their competitively-priced plastic alternative. 

But Lancashire-based food delivery platform The Modern Milkman wants to bring back the clink, with a reinvented milk and grocery service focussed on sustainability and app-based ordering. 

Earlier this month the company secured a £5m investment from ETF Partners (The Environmental Technologies Fund) after a mammoth 2020 saw a tenfold increase in revenue, bolstered by lockdown demand. 

The app-based platform delivers milk and groceries from independent and local suppliers directly to households in returnable and reusable packaging, including glass bottles and tins. 

The growth equates to 106 tonnes of plastic saved, or 8 million plastic bottles. That figure, says founder and CEO Simon Mellin, is growing by 1.2 million bottles a month as the company scales.

"It makes you realise just how big the problem is," he told Prolific North.  

Mellin now plans to expand the company’s user-base by five times in 2021. By the end of 2022, the company is aiming to cover the whole of the UK. 

Beginning the milk delivery service in Colne and later Burnley, the company is taking a ‘Blitzscale’ approach, by moving into Manchester, Leeds, and York. 

Mellin said It is currently working its way down the country into the Midlands through Wigan, Crewe, and Chester. 

The entrepreneur is focussed on solidifying the service in the North and "flipping the balance" on most subscription services which start in London and move upward. 

The company recently opened a Manchester office in Bonded Warehouse, Spinningfields, but Mellin said the company “always plans to stay based in the North West" despite national ambitions. 

"We try to keep a Northern touch. There's a lot of warmth to a Northern food brand. It's a strong asset and we want to retain that,” he said. 

The entrepreneur’s latest venture follows the sale of an online meat business in 2015 which focussed on grass-fed beef and lamb.

The inspiration for The Modern Milkman came after Mellin - like much of the rest of the world - watched David Attenborough’s television series and saw just how much plastic ended up in the ocean. 

The solution to non-recycled plastic milk bottles already existed, he realised. Returnable, reusable glass bottles had a “nostalgia”, and through an app, the service could reconnect local producers and customers while committing to only reusable packaging. 

The Modern Milkman app

Despite a lockdown boom for the company, Mellin believes it is the environmental impact, rather than convenience, which will see it retain these customers. 

"All our customers are environmentally focussed," he said. 

"What generates customer loyalty is doing the right thing. If we always try and do the right thing, rather than chasing profit, it breeds the right behaviours internally and externally." 

While the electric milk floats haven’t made a return, electric vehicles are a major focus for the firm, said Mellin. 

Currently its products are delivered and empty containers picked up three times a week by Diesel vans, which is a necessity given the mileage required by its drivers. 

But the company is looking to launch some electric vehicles this year, and plans to test zero emission alternatives with fast-growing electric transport company ARRIVAL. 

It has also heavily scaled its tech development team, with around 35 people working on its driver and user app.

Part of the recent £5m funding will be used for future development of this tech, said Mellin, to help with the influx of customers. 

In the future, Mellin said it is considering third-party integrations which would allow the firm to deliver other company's products, or even parcel collection via its delivery network.

Its product development team are busy working on new, reusable packaging solutions which will enable it to expand the products on offer.  

Mellin said he has allowed himself to consider international growth. "We think that it would work outside the UK," he said. For now though, the focus is its UK customer base. 

More immediately, he and the rest of the company’s employees have committed to living without any single-use plastic for the month of February. 

The plans is to better understand some of the other challenges the company could solve.