02/04/2008 - 22:00

Premium product an udder pleasure

02/04/2008 - 22:00

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In a world of increasing specialisation it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s a high-end market niche developing for one of our society’s most ubiquitous products – milk.

Premium product an udder pleasure

In a world of increasing specialisation it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s a high-end market niche developing for one of our society’s most ubiquitous products – milk.

Ravenhill Dairy, Bannister Downs, and Avon Valley Dairy are three Western Australian producers supplying product to meet this growing demand.

The Ravenhill family have been dairy farmers since 1925 and have run the Narrikup farm, near Albany, for 17 years.

These days the dairy is run by Graham and Jan Ravenhill and their three sons.

The farm, which has about 950 cows, sells some of its production quota to larger corporations such as Challenge Dairy and National Foods.

Three years ago, the Ravenhills decided to develop a high-quality boutique product.

The premium brand, Ravenhill Dairy, has enjoyed strong market acceptance during the past three years thanks to word of mouth, a presence in the local community, and tight tracking of the product, according to one of the sons, Rhys Ravenhill.

He says the product is pasteurised only, and not homogenised, as the case at most large dairy companies.

“Most people are willing to pay more as long as they can see a difference,” Mr Ravenhill told Gusto.

Ravenhill Dairy only distributes in the Great Southern region to guarantee product distribution, and to be in touch with customers to get their feedback.

“We used to distribute our products in Perth but we couldn’t get any assurance on the way our milk was handled; our brand could have suffered.

That’s why we decided to stop,” said Mr Ravenhill’s wife, Tracey, who also works on the farm.

She says a lot of people come to buy the milk at the Albany Farmers Market every week, which has proved a good way for the dairy to keep in touch with customers.

“The Albany Farmers Market has been a great exposure; there has been an increasing number of people coming through too,” Mrs Ravenhill says.

The growing coffee culture in Albany has also had a positive effect on Ravenhill Dairy, as its milk is used by coffee shops including the Bay Merchants café on Middleton Beach, The Yorke Street Café and the Naked Bean.

Northcliffe-based Bannister Downs Farm, operated by Matt and Sue Daubney for two years, is another boutique milk producer to have grown considerably of late.

Mrs Daubney says the customer base keeps growing, with an extra 1,000 litres per week required, thanks partly to word-of-mouth advertising from restaurants and cafes.

The company supplies high-end restaurants such as Star Anise and Lamont’s, as well as cafes including West Perth-based Epic Espresso.

“Half of our market is in cafes and restaurants, those places want to use the best; it is good for us,” Mrs Daubney says.

Bannister Downs makes an impact on the supermarket shelves too, because of its 100 per cent biodegradable packaging, which has a distinctive chalky appearance.

According to Mrs Daubney, the packaging is one element that contributes to the overall quality of the Bannister Downs milk.

“It is 100 per cent milk from a cow; there are other things that contribute to make it better.

Our milk is freshly packed within three hours...and we take more time to process the milk using a lower temperature,” she told Gusto.

Bannister Downs is about to release two new products – a mango smoothie and a double cream – as well as preparing to export its products to Asia.

Toodyay-based Avon Valley Dairy, which sells its milk in reusable glass bottles, also believes packaging plays a role in how the milk will taste.

Milk from the company’s herd of 40 cows is widely distributed in the hills but only to a couple of outlets in Perth – Charlie’s Fresh Food Market in Morley and Ellenbrook Fresh.

The small company, which produces Ayrshire milk, is operated by Darren and Lisa Thompson.

Ayrshire cows originated in southwest Scotland and their milk possesses superior or premium properties when compared with other types of milk, according to a British study by the Hannah Research Institute.

The milk goes from the cow directly to a bottle filler and into the bottles.

It is pasteurised while in the bottle.

Last week, the three farms competed against the big players of the dairy industry, including National Foods and Peters & Brownes Foods, at the Dairy Industry Association of Australia WA awards.

Ravenhill Dairy won the gold medal for the best full-cream milk and for the best modified milk for its skim milk, as well as eight silver medals.

Bannister Downs received a gold medal for its ‘Chocolatte’, and silver for its farm fresh milk and fresh cream.

Avon Valley Dairy won a silver medal for its full cream milk.

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