Tilba Milk takes the next step with Woolies at its side

Tilba Real Milk - 100% Jersey. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.
Tilba Real Milk – 100% Jersey. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.

Major investment at Tilba Milk is underway as the artisan dairy company steps up to meet demand for its products, including a new contract with Woolworths supermarkets.

Bottling and labeling machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars has just arrived from the United States and is waiting to be installed at the historic ABC Cheese Factory on Bate Street, Central Tilba.

The site has been a hub for the local dairy industry since 1891 but under the ownership of Nic and Erica Dibden new life and opportunity has been injected into the building, the industry, and the community.

Another chapter is unfolding.

Building on the success they’d had at a smaller site in Bodalla over the six years prior, in 2012 Nic and Erica set out to expand their mostly cheese and yogurt business on the Tilba site using milk from their Jersey herd down the road.

However the buzz around their fresh, unhomogenised, cream on the top, Jersey milk has flipped the equation, 80% of the business is now milk.

Nic Dibden, on the job milking in the dairy. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.
Nic Dibden, on the job milking in the dairy. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.

“When we first set up the Tilba factory we put in a very small, very labour intensive milk filling machine which requires five or six people to stand around filling, capping, and carting milk,” Nic explains.

“That has worked fine, but our sales have continued to grow, this new machine will fill, cap, and label one bottle each second, with two to three staff.”

Between the factory and their lush farm, 22 people are employed and Nic believes more jobs will be created.

The new bottling machine will activate a different part of the factory, freeing up space for increased cheese production.

“Staff that have been bottling milk will move across to cheese, in fact we might need more staff,” Nic says.

A relationship with Woolworths has also been building. The supermarket giant has stocked Tilba Milk at its Bermagui outlet for the last two years, but in recent weeks the Dibdens have started supplying the Narooma and Bega supermarkets as well.

New bottling and labeling machinery is ready to install. By Ian Campbell
New bottling and labeling machinery is ready to install. By Ian Campbell

Butcher shops, small independent supermarkets, cafes, fruit shops, and delis have been the only go to place for Tilba Milk customers up until now.

“We supply about 200 stores from Eden to Nowra, and then Bowral, Mittagong, and into Canberra,” Nic says.

“60% of our business is in Canberra.

“We’ve never really gone out chasing stores, it has been consumer driven, consumers go in and ask stores to stock our products,” he says.

The new deal with Woolies was a long time in the making and adds an extra 1000 litres of milk each week to the business.

Nic says Woolies approached them and have been great to deal with.

Woolworths like everybody else that sells food, wants safe food. So although we are audited by NSW Safe Foods, Woolies have their own independent auditing system which we had to pass, and that takes time,” he says.

The door is open for further growth with Woolworths but sustainable, manageable growth is important to the way the Dibdens approach their business.

Tilba Milk, now in Wollies at Narooma, Bega, and Bermagui. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.
Tilba Milk, now in Wollies at Narooma, Bega, and Bermagui. Source: Tilba Real Dairy.

“We have no intention of trying to conquer the world, we want to continue to produce a very good product and look after our staff and look after our community,” Nic says.

The financial security that comes with supplying a business like Woolworths is a key part of the Dibden’s drive but they are also mindful of the existing commercial arrangements that have been apart of their development.

“When we go into new stores we have tended to get new customers, it has made very little difference to existing suppliers in the same town, they have their loyal customers who support them,” Nic says.

“In any town that we go into we have a non-exclusive supply arrangement, for us to supply to one store in one town is uneconomic.”

In doing a deal with Woolworths, the Dibdens had to consider the controversy around $1 a litre supermarket milk.

“We have always gone into our stores at the price point that we are at, with no thought of competing against dollar milk,” Nic says.

“Dollar milk is a disaster for the dairy industry ultimately and you get what you pay for, dollar milk has been stripped, but I fully understand people buying dollar milk.

“But if you want to buy our milk it will be at the correct price point, that’s the way we operate,” he says.

The Tilba Real Diary farm, with Little Drom in the background. Source: Tilba Real Dairy
The Tilba Real Diary farm, with Little Drom in the background. Source: Tilba Real Dairy

Most of the core ingredient at the centre of the Tilba Real Dairy business comes from a Jersey herd approaching 300 at the Dibden’s farm, which sits in the shadow of Gulaga on the Princes Highway.

“We continuously grow our cow numbers to stay ahead of the production curve, but at some point we will have to take on more farms if we want to grow the business,” Nic explains.

“I am very much hoping we can find people who might start up a new operation, it has to be 100% Jersey milk of course, that is our brand.”

With spring creeping into the air and the busy tourist season approaching Nic is hoping specialist technicians from New Zealand will have the new bottling and labeling machines installed and working at the factory in the coming weeks.

“This has been a steep learning curve,” Nic says with a smile.

 

Thanks to About Regional members Kym Mogridge, Patrick Reubinson, Pam Murray and Julie Rutherford Real Estate for supporting local story telling.

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Head garbos point to new opportunities in the local ‘war on waste’

Recycling up close. Source: Eurobodalla Shire Council
Recycling up close. Source: Eurobodalla Shire Council

‘Head garbos’ across the region have welcomed the supermarket ban on light weight plastic bags but are looking to new opportunities and challenges in their ever present ‘war on waste’.

Woolworths and Coles were tripping over themselves in announcing the news last week, both committing to a phase out of single use bags over the next 12 months.

Shoppers will be asked to bring their own bags or be charged 15 cents for a heavier weight, reusable plastic bag.

“This will significantly change the number of bags going to any landfill or transfer station,” says Mandy Thurling, Rescouse and Waste Manager for Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

In the Eurobodalla, Amanda Jones, Council’s Manager of Waste Services says, “This is great news, keeping problem waste from entering the environment.”

While also welcoming the action, Toby Browne, Waste Services Manager for Bega Valley Shire Council has signaled a need for further change, “It’s a move in the right direction but definitely more needs to be done to reduce packaging and other soft plastic waste.”

Environmental groups have been campaigning for a plastic bag ban for decades, and while some states and towns have imposed restrictions, the ABC TV series “War on Waste” seemed to inject new momentum into the national discussion.

Clean Up Australia estimates six billion plastic bags are handed out every year, with just 4% recycled.

Let loose in the environment they choke, smother, and tangle wildlife.

The supermarket ban doesn’t go far enough according to Clean Up Australia, who continue to lobby the Premiers of New South Walse, Victoria, and Western Australia for an out right ban.

“Hopefully more commercial premises will come on board and ban the bag,” Ms Thurling from Snowy Monaro says.

Given their ‘last for forever nature’ all three South East councils will have to continue to manage plastic bags and soft plastics into the future.

A new landfill cell at the Brou waste facility. Source: Eurobodalla Shire Council.
A new landfill cell at the Brou waste facility. Source: Eurobodalla Shire Council.

Apart from taking up tip space, the Eurobodalla’s Amanda Jones says, “Plastic bags at landfill sites get caught by the wind and need to be managed by catching them in litter fences and manual litter picking.”

Toby Brown is frustrated by plastic bag contamination of other waste streams at his Bega Valley facilities.

“When they contaminate recycling and organic waste streams, they must be manually removed,” he says.

With that Amanda Jones jumps in.

“Please don’t put your recycling in plastic bags!” she says.

“The bags don’t always fall open to allow recyclables to be sorted.”

The recent introduction of  REDcyle bins at Coles supermarkets in Bega, Eden, Batemans Bay, Ulladulla, and Cooma is part of the equation Mandy Thurling is hoping locals might take up.

REDcycle bins not only take plastic bags but the soft plastic wrapping and packaging many products come smothered in.

REDcycle askes you to do the scrunch test, “If it’s soft plastic and can be crunched into a ball, it can be placed into a REDcycle drop off bin,” their website says.

The material collected is transformed into a range of products including street furniture, decking, and bollards by Replas.

“Council is always looking at the next step in reducing waste to landfill, this could be by reducing all soft plastics and finding alternate recycling avenues for this material,” Ms Thurling from Snowy Monaro says.

In the Eurobodalla, where Council runs their own recycling facility the ‘war on waste’ is reaching new heights.

Crushed waste glass is starting to be used instead of quarried sand in road construction projects.

The sand substitute has just been tested in Murray Street, Moruya where 63 tonnes of the local product was used to install new drainage culverts and reconstruct the road.

“The crushed glass has proven to be a viable product to replace sand in concrete mixes,” Council’s Works Manager, Tony Swallow says.

“It does need to be treated differently to bedding sand but our crews are happy with the performance,” he says.

Around 30 tonnes of sand like substance is produced each week at the Materials Recycling Facility in Moruya; glass represents 40% of the 5,200 tonnes of recyclables collected in the Eurobodalla each year.

“The savings to our environment and Council’s materials budget are significant,” Mr Swallow says.

Polystyrene is the other win in the Eurobodalla’s waste war.

Known for making a mighty mess, up until now polystyrene had taken up valuable landfill space at Surf Beach and Brou.

The polystyrene thermal compaction machine at the Surf Beach waste facility. Source: Eurobodalla Shire Council
The polystyrene thermal compaction machine at the Surf Beach waste facility. Source: Eurobodalla Shire Council

With a $30,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Authority, Council has installed a thermal compaction machine at its Surf Beach facility.

“The process reduces the volume and turns polystyrene into a hard white substance,” Mr Swallow explains.

“Our contractor is shipping it to China where the material is made into items like picture frames.

“What has made this such a success is that we have supplied local businesses that have a lot of polystyrene packaging with metal frames and wool bales to easily collect the material,” Mr Swallow says.

Council estimates the move will save them $100,000 worth of landfill space each year, with other savings spinning off to local electronic businesses and supermarkets in reduced waste disposal fees.

Bega Valley Shire is looking to do more with waste and is currently developing a waste strategy.

“Our key areas are likely to be addressing food waste recycling and improving local economic opportunity in recycling and resource recovery,” Mr Browne says.

“It’s great to see business making meaningful change in response to community concern. Change creates opportunities.”

At the start of July, Snowy Monaro Regional Council introduced a fully commingled recycling service for the Cooma kerbside collection area

“This allows locals to place recyclable items in the yellow lidded recycling bin,” Mandy Thurling says.

“There is no longer a need to separate paper and cardboard into the black crate.”

Council is now considering giving households a larger capacity recycling bin – more room to recycle.

The action, appetite, and ideas that swirl in this discussion points us in the right direction and into a better position to win the ‘war on waste’ locally.

*Thank you to About Regional member Tim Holt for his contribution to local story telling.

Disclaimer: Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council