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Monday, August 27, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
Home milk delivery: Can it save you money?
By Bree Coven Brown
Seattle Times staff
We were visiting friends in Redmond, friends with kids, like ours, who easily go through a gallon of milk weekly. I noticed a cute, retro, white metal box on their front porch, emblazoned with a picture of a cow. Home milk delivery, how quaint, I thought. "That must be really expensive."
"Not at all," my friend insisted. "You should give it a try," and we were soon on Smith Brothers Farms' website, investigating for ourselves. Smith Brothers says it is the only home delivery local dairy processor in Western Washington.
Home milk delivery saves me time and trips to the grocery store. But what I didn't expect is that it's saving my family money, too.
We pay $2.79 for a half-gallon of 2% local, farm-fresh milk. This is 70 cents less than what we were spending on a comparable product at our neighborhood store. Chocolate milk ($1.99 for a quart of 2%) is a full dollar less than the store price for a similar local brand. We pay $1.69 for a pint of half and half, which is the same as the store price for a more processed product, and 80 cents less than the other local farm brand we used to buy. We pay $2.99 for a dozen large, hormone- and antibiotic-free eggs, exactly the same as the store price — not surprising, since they're the same eggs, from Steibr Farms in Yelm.
Many of the prices are exactly the same as my local store, including specialty name-brand items like Lactaid ($4.19) and Silk Soy Milk ($3.99).
Smith Brothers also delivers other local products — the online order form reads like a who's who of local purveyors: Alki Bakery, Cougar Mountain Cookie Dough, Seattle Bagel Bakery, Erin Baker's Granola from Whidbey Island, Yami low-fat yogurt from Auburn Dairy, Tillamook from Oregon and gourmet coffee from Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie. They carry a few nonlocal products, too, like Philadelphia Cream Cheese ($3.10 for an 8-ounce tub, compared to $3.19 at my neighborhood store, but $2.89 at the big chain store) and Simply Juice, because customers like them.
Most of these "luxury" items don't come with a savings — they generally cost more than at the grocery store (if you can find them at the grocery store, which is another issue). There, you're paying for convenience.
A milk price comparison assumes all things are equal, but they're not. Smith Brothers Farms milk comes from the cows to your doorstep within 24 to 48 hours. They receive raw milk from a co-op of five to seven Washington dairies, including De Hoog Dairy in Ephrata, Roylance Brothers in the Othello area and Avila Dairy near Royal City (they sold their own dairy farm in Royal City in 2006). Smith Brothers pasteurizes and homogenizes the milk on-site at its Kent farm, turns it into nonfat, 1 percent, 2 percent, heavy cream and half and half; packages it and puts it on the trucks for delivery the next day.
Processing is kept to a minimum according to Dusty Highland, Director of Sales & Marketing. "We call our pasteurizing process soft pasteurization. We never ultra-pasteurize, which heats the milk up to higher temps for a longer time. We think that takes some of the flavor out of it," said Highland.
Ultra-pasteurization, typical for big-name and store brands, allows the milk to keep 45-60 days longer, preventing spoilage of milk. Smith Brothers Milk has only 18 to 19 days until expiration. Delivery is free with a $10 minimum order, which buys about four half-gallons of milk (for orders under $10, there is a $1.29 delivery fee). Customers set a standing weekly order, but can change it any time online. There's no contract or membership fee. Delivery is available across Puget Sound, including all of King County, though typically only to homes and town homes, not apartment buildings.
Can home milk delivery save you money?
It depends on where you shop and what you buy. Compared to my neighborhood market in Seattle, it's a better deal most of the time. You can still find cheaper milk at a chain store, if price is your main concern, but for those invested in the locavore movement, delivery is a relatively affordable option.
Bree Coven Brown: 206-464-3201 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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