Is the Milkman Making a Comeback?

Milkman on the Rise 052820
( Pixabay )

The coronavirus has rendered the business of home-delivery essential. And one type of delivery you may have thought went by the wayside long ago is actually seeing a resurgence. As Athena Jones reports, the milkman is making a comeback.


For Doug Wade, owner of Wade’s Dairy in Bridgeport, Connecticut, March was scary time with schools shutting down and stay-at-home restrictions forcing many other clients to close their doors. 

“We lost 50% of our business literally overnight,” Wade said.

So, he switched gears and started supplying grocery stores that were facing shortages. Additionally, as schools ramped up programs to feed needy students who were stuck at home, his company regained some of the lost business. But consumers wanted more. 

"The phones started ringing for people looking for a home delivery service,” Wade said. 

“Do you [deliver?]” consumers would ask. 

“No, we don't,” Wade would say. “We did it in the past -- but after you had enough of these calls, you start saying, 'Geez, I wonder if this could be a viable way to sell milk again."

The delivery service he launched has been a hit with customers like Christine Ostrowski in Nearby Fairfield. 

"It's really been a big, big boon for us because we were struggling with grocery deliveries,” Ostrowski says. “It's just really eased a lot of anxiety and stress."

Wade’s now delivers to 260 customers in some 30 towns across Connecticut and recently bought another truck.  Being a milkman is in Wade’s blood.

"I was seven or eight years old,” Wade says. “The clink, clink noise of glass milk bottles banging up against the metal dividers in the wooden cases is just something I'll never forget."

His great grandfather began making milk deliveries in a horse and buggy in 1893. 

"People would time their meals around when the milkman was coming," Wade said. 

After nearly a century, Wade’s halted deliveries in 1992 as clients’ habits changed. Covid-19 is shaking things up all over again. And not just for Wade’s

While national numbers are scarce, producers and distributors across the country are reporting a surge in demand for home delivery. Doorstep Delivery in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, severs more than 300 families a week. Another 300 or so are one and waiting list and they’re hiring more staff to try and keep up with demand. 

"We probably tripled our home delivery customers in about a three- or four-week time until we kind of maxed out our capacity," say Daryl Mast of Doorstep Dairy.

Shatto home delivery outside of Kansas City, Missouri, also has a waiting list. They’ve seen demand rise some 230% since late March to more than 4,000 customers and have doubled their staff.

"We've purchased four new delivery trucks and created countless new routes, probably about 14 new routes throughout the Metro over that period of time," says Matt Shatto of Shatto milk.

Each company provides no-contact delivery to promote social distancing. The companies are hopeful that strong demand will continue even after the pandemic.

Suddenly in this business, everything old is new again.