Happy Cow Milk is poised to relaunch with a new business model and an invention that could revolutionise dairy production, explains founder Glen Herud, in the latest instalment of his Spinoff series documenting the company’s fall and rise again.
Just as we were chilling the beers for our equity crowdfunding launch last Thursday we crossed the line. We cracked those beers instead, because by the time I got home we had fulfilled our target of raising $400,000. After months of work it was a huge relief to reach our goal, and we did it in just 8 hours and 8 minutes.
It was a rare day of success in what sometimes feels like an endless start-up slog. The best part for me is the confirmation that New Zealanders are ready for change. They want solutions that reduce emissions, look after animals, protect waterways and reduce plastics. And they want to connect with farmers and food production in a more positive way.
Some of you may already know my story. I left the dairy industry because the direction modern dairy is going in just didn’t sit well with me. But I came to realise that farming was what I knew. And that if I didn’t like some parts of dairy farming, I should try to change them.
The first iteration of Happy Cow was Glen the farmer, working to change farming. I built a mobile milking shed and my own milk processing equipment. I milked and pasteurised and delivered and sold and even washed the bottles. I worked like crazy. But I never broke even. And I had to admit that my original model wasn’t going to work.
It was looking like I would have to walk away. Except that hundreds of people who, like me, believed that there should be a better way to dairy, asked me to keep going. They did more than that, they put their money into keeping me going.
And so with the support of these passionate people I went back to the drawing board. The result is Happy Cow 2.0 which aims to disrupt dairy in the same way that other industries, from music to transport, have been disrupted: by connecting producers directly to consumers.
The solution is based on a simple but potentially revolutionary piece of equipment that I’ve developed and filed provisional patents on. This time, I’m Glen the inventor. I call it a milk factory in a box, and it’s about the size of a domestic dishwasher. On the farm it’s a milk pasteuriser. The milk goes in and with the push of a button is safely pasteurised and then cooled. On the truck, it’s a hygienic transport unit that the farmer delivers to community retailers. This might be a cafe or a bottle refillery at a school or community centre.
Each unit is connected to a smart network that tracks the location, temperature and milk levels. Smart payment systems will charge the customer $2.50 per litre and immediately share that payment with the farmer, the retailer and with Happy Cow Milk. Farmers will get more than twice per litre what they get from Fonterra and this is how we’ll help them to follow the Happy Cow Way – a farming style that looks after animals and the planet.
Because it’s not what we farm but how we farm that matters. You can grow carrots in a way that puts nitrates in the river. Or you can do it in a better way. In nature animals are an important part of an ecosystem, and if we farm more like nature we can do it in a way that is very low impact. So you won’t have to give up your flat white or your gruyere.
Happy Cow 2.0 is taking the debate on plastic versus glass to a new level by going packaging-free. The cafe fills their milk jugs straight from a tap on the bench and individual customers bring their own re-usable containers to the filling point.
We’ll build the prototypes in the next few months and aim to launch a trial in April. We’ve already signed up our first farmer in the Waikato and we’re looking for schools, cafes and workplaces in Auckland and the Waikato to sign up as trial retailers.
My first attempt to change dairy failed because we couldn’t find a way to scale. There was too much labour in processing, delivery and washing bottles. The Happy Cow 2.0 milk factory in a box is built to scale. Once we’ve proven the core transaction – 1 farm connected to 1500 households via community retailers – we’ll be able to repeat that core transaction again and again, both in New Zealand and Australia and then around the world.
As we achieve scale we’ll also achieve change. We’ll make dairy farming kinder, greener and fairer for everyone.
I enjoyed my beers and a rare taste of success in a journey that has felt each day like varying shades of difficult to impossible. Now, with 557 new shareholders on board, I’m ready to deliver on our promise.
Read Glen Herud’s full, remarkable story here.
The Spinoff’s business section is enabled by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.