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Kalispell Kreamery eyes distribution in glass bottles

July 15, 2018

Environmentally conscious consumers are increasingly demanding a shift away from plastic packaging, and one Flathead Valley business is heeding the call.

Kalispell Kreamery off Farm to Market Road is planning to crowdsource the funding necessary to introduce glass bottles to its product line, with the goal of eliminating up to five percent of the plastic the dairy uses to distribute its milk.

Mary Tuck owns the dairy with her husband Jared Tuck and father Bill Hedstrom. She said they have been fielding more requests from customers who want to ditch plastic in favor of glass bottles, and that they have been looking into their options for some time now.

They had identified a few different routes to cut back on plastic packaging - including putting taps filled with their milk into local grocery stores similar to the way fresh kombucha is often dispensed - but they kept running into regulatory hurdles, Mary said.

“Every one of them has a state regulation we can’t overcome,” she said. “Milk is the highest regulated food in the United States.”

The Tucks eventually identified a way forward. They are planning to stock half-gallon glass bottles of whole milk at the dairy’s retail store on the farm and on local grocery store shelves.

The initial purchase price for a half-gallon bottle will include a 150,000 from a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30 to help purchase the necessary equipment and bottles.

The funds will also help renovate the bottling facility and purchase another delivery truck equipped to handle the heavier and more fragile glass cargo. They will also purchase the sanitizing equipment needed to clean used bottles and prepare them for reuse.

The dairy will use the crowd funding campaign as a gauge for how much community support there is for glass bottles, Mary said. If they don’t hit the full amount of $150,000, Kickstarter won’t release any of the funds and the project won’t happen.

“We see it, but we also have a business to run,” Mary said. “We see the community need for this. It reduces so much waste.”

The goal is to have glass bottles for sale by September 2019.

The dairy would hire an additional full-time employee to run the program, which would include bottling and delivering the product, as well as marketing and working with distributors.

Distribution of the glass bottles initially would focus on the U.S. 93 corridor between Kalispell and Missoula. The dairy uses distributors to get their products elsewhere in Montana, which means glass bottles likely won’t spread across the whole state.

The change would keep more plastic out of landfills, a benefit made more important since China stopped taking recyclable plastics from the United States earlier this year. However, Mary says there are other important benefits to drinking milk out of glass bottles.

“Milk does taste better when it comes from glass,” Mary said.

It also looks better, she said, since the transparent glass allows a consumer to see the cream-on-top separation that comes with Kalispell Kreamery’s products.

Hedstrom had bottled raw milk for the dairy in the 1970s before Montana outlawed the sale of raw milk. At that point the dairy struck a deal to sell all its milk to a wholesaler.

“For a span of 30 or 40 years we were still milking cows, but it was all going out in big milk trucks,” Mary explained.

When the Tucks decided to start an independent creamery in 2009, they pondered distributing all their products in glass bottles. But a flood of milk that needed to be packaged forced their hand and they committed to plastic, which allowed for a higher volume of sales.

“All of a sudden, I had 1,000 gallons of milk a day I had to get rid of,” Mary said. “We had to make some quick changes to allow us to move milk much more quickly.”

The dairy doesn’t anticipate the market for glass bottling to be large, or even to grow to eclipse five percent of the market. But the Tucks are hopeful they can pull in customers who are currently bypassing the local product for milk packaged in cardboard or organic products.

“We’re choosing to keep it very simple, mostly because we’ve never done it before,” Mary said.

For details about the crowd funding campaign or Kalispell Kreamery visit www.kalispellkreamery.com/kickstarter.html.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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