COVID-19 has forced many small businesses to change the way they sell their products, dairy processors included.

At Fleurieu Milk Company in Myponga, owned by dairy farmers Barry and Merridie Clarke, Chris and Karen Royans, and Geoff and Louise Hutchinson, swift adjustment to changed market conditions has seen the company not only survive, but thrive.

“When COVID first hit in Australia, it was an uneasy time for all of us. The unknown created a level of stress within the company, but we knew we had to think quickly and adapt to make sure that Fleurieu Milk Company could survive the pandemic,” said Tina Filippidis, Quality Assurance Manager at Fleurieu Milk Company.

“We have more than 50 employees and management often spoke about that being 50 families that we need to continue providing an income for through this difficult time.”

Prior to COVID, the majority of Fleurieu Milk Company’s customers were restaurants and cafes.

“When restrictions were announced, we were having 10 or more customers calling each day to notify us that they were being forced to close their doors,” Tina said.

“Many of our customer were unable to pay their bills, but we knew we had to be patient and support them as best we could. After all, it was these same small businesses that supported Fleurieu Milk Company when we first started selling our own milk in 2004.”

At the same time, supermarket clients were selling out of milk faster than they could have it delivered. “To assist them, we put extra trucks on the road and offered a drop-in service, helping them restock their shelves to keep up with the unexpected demand,” Tina said.

“This is something we don’t normally do, but there was an opportunity to support our customers to keep up with demand at the same time as enabling Fleurieu Milk Company to stay profitable. 

“Our sales team was restricted by social distancing requirements, so they had to be creative in their sales approach. Our team did a fantastic job picking up new accounts in areas of business that were still able to function during COVID, as well as maintaining relationships with existing customers that were forced to close.”

Tina said COVID-19 had also tested their food safety systems.

“The most difficult part was ensuring we were still able to carry out food safety requirements while adhering to COVID restrictions,” she said.

“Our staffing arrangement changed drastically to ensure that only essential staff were on site and no key staff were rostered on the same shift in case anyone fell ill.

“This created challenges will communication and training. We had to make sure that in the event of a COVID outbreak, the business was not affected, but we also had to make sure that our day to day food safety programs were being completed to the highest standard.” 

A strong food safely culture is a key part of Fleurieu Milk Company’s success. Fleurieu Milk Company bases all production decisions on food safety and quality standards. 

Key to the system is the team at Fleurieu Milk. “We encourage all staff, no matter what position they are in the company, to carry a strong safe food mindset,” Tina said.

“We embed this through our staff induction and training processes, and by implementing production systems that are proactive in identifying and reducing risks.

“Our systems extend beyond processing to our supplying farms. We have built strong relationships with our supplying farmers to ensure that raw milk quality is premium and food safety standards are maintained.

“We believe you cannot produce a premium end product if you don’t have a premium raw product. Therefore, communication and control at farm level is vital.”

Now that restaurants and cafes have reopened, Fleurieu Milk Company is growing – from four supplying farms to now five, and by mid 2021 the company will have nine supplying farms.

The future looks bright for Fleurieu Milk Company.

Barry and Merridie Clarke, Chris and Karen Royans, Louise and Geoff Hutchinson, owners of Fleurieu Milk Company.