Dear milkman: Two pints and a bottle of Beaujolais doorstep delivery wine

Tradition under threat: Doorstep delivery men diversify in fight for survival
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The Independent Online

The residents of rural France could hardly believe their eyes this week as a traditional British milk float loaded with Beaujolais nouveau trundled its leisurely way northwards towards Calais en route for the heart of England.

The stunt was part of a ploy by Midland Co-op Dairies to publicise its latest attempt to keep doorstep milk deliveries in business.

From this week, the Co-op's 400,000 customers in the Midlands have been able to order from a monthly catalogue wine which their milkman delivers direct to the door.

In the summer, the milkmen were piling barbecue fodder on their floats. Now they will be humping packs of wine up the garden path - three-bottle packs selling at pounds 11.99, with slightly more distinguished six-bottle packs selling at just under pounds 30.

This is wine to the doorstep, however, not wine on the doorstep. There will not be any drunken blue tits imbibing wine through foil tops. All deliveries of alcohol have to be signed for by an adult.

The dairy had steeled itself for attacks from the teetotal brigade, on the grounds that doorstep deliveries were somehow more tempting than alcohol on the supermarket shelves. But they have not come.

The milkman will also deliver wine glasses, lasagne dishes, stilton cheese and Thai cookbooks, even tea-tree oil gel and aromatherapy packs, all the while keeping a traditional caring eye on the old people among his customers, taking note that the milk bottles have been safely taken in.

Service to the community as well as to the paying customer has long been a reason put forward by the industry in favour of milk deliveries in the face of wicked plots by Eurocrats in Brussels to deprive the British of their doorstep pinta.

In fact, the supermarket is the real enemy of the traditional milkman - selling milk in bulk-quantity cartons at a price the doorstep vendor cannot hope to match.

Catalogue "home shopping" is a desperate attempt to stave off his demise, and there seems to be a glimmer of hope.

Peter Vaughan, marketing manager for Midland's Co-op Dairies, says that his doorstep milk sales this year have fallen by "between a third and a half" less the 5 per cent fall for the industry as a whole.

The 800 milkmen are the new entrepreneurs, their pay determined within a "performance-related structure", or commission by any other name.

They have a hard sell ahead, competition in wines, and every other item on offer, is every bit as intense as for the humble pint of milk. Doorstep deliveries are being used by others to add edge in the competition.

Bass recently started a pilot scheme delivering beers to the door in Birmingham and Nottingham - so far, you have to be a Carling Black Label fan - but London gets a choice of eight premium beers. Discounts and promotions were built in from the beginning.

Brummies with long memories can afford to be smug. The local Davenport brewery, long since gone and its brand subsumed into Greenall Whitley, did doorstep deliveries of beer in the city. The cutting edge of service has come full circle.