SOCIETY

Larissa farmers defy convention, cut out the middleman and offer milk 24/7

Dairy farmers in the region of Larissa have launched an innovative dispensary through which customers can purchase milk much like they get money out of an ATM.

Fresh pasteurized milk is collected every morning and put into six automatic vending machines around the city that operate around the clock. Consumers have a choice of half a liter of milk at a cost of 50 cents or a liter for 1 euro, either in a reusable glass bottle or in a disposable plastic one.

This innovative idea belongs to the Cooperative of Thessaly-Pieria Cattle Farmers, which was established in 2011 and now comprises 102 dairy farmers who produce around 130 tons of fresh cow’s milk a day – 10 percent of all domestic production – and supply most of Greece’s dairy industry.

At the core of the cooperative is a group of young producers who share the same concerns about the problems being faced by the sector and who believe the crisis demands that they redefine their relationship with the consumer as well as entrepreneurship within the context of the cooperative.

The group that came up with the initiative, dubbed “Thesgala-Pies” (a play on the names of Thessaly and Pieria to say “Want milk? Drink”), prides itself on managing to protect the interests of its members while at the same time offering consumers fresh milk at well below regular market prices.

“This effort is also a response to the phenomenon of high consumer prices in the midst of the recession,” the cooperative’s president, Thanasis Vakalis, recently told Kathimerini.

Since being set up in 2011, the cooperative has looked for cost-efficient ways to cut out the middlemen and get milk directly to consumers.

“This system of milk distribution exists in other countries but it is run by specific, individual producers, whereas in Greece it is being run by a cooperative,” said the initiative’s public relations director, Andreas Hardaloupas.

The milk reaches the tanks of the vending machines just a few hours after being pasteurized at fully certified modern facilities.

“It is a closed system that does not allow the milk to have any contact with the outside environment, which means that it retains as many of its nutrients as possible,” added Hardaloupas.

The Thesgala-Pies scheme began in Larissa with four vending outlets.

“The citizens embraced the idea immediately,” said Hardaloupas. “At first demand was so high that we couldn’t keep up and consumers would form long lines waiting for us to refill the machines. Now we have six machines. We recently introduced a system to change the tanks faster and today consumers know that they’ll find milk whenever they want it. Another three selling points will be installed by the end of the year, meaning a total of nine vending machines – eight in Larissa and one at an army base on the outskirts of the city.”