COVID-19 forces Contoocook Creamery to be nimbleby Edith Tucker

HOPKINTON, NH – Members of the Robertson family on the 440-acre Bohanan Farm, only 10 miles from the State House in Concord, worked for nearly a decade to raise the money to develop the Contoocook Creamery, a small business where they pasteurize, bottle and market the milk made exclusively from their own cows.

Contoocook Creamery started up its bottling plant last summer. It took an investment of over $1 million to build the dedicated processing building and to acquire the carefully chosen used machinery needed to bottle and market the high-quality, premium-priced product under its own label.

Twenty percent of the production of their 190 cows was being bottled on site, and the remaining 80% was sold wholesale to Agri-Mark. Customers make a $2 deposit when they purchase milk in a glass bottle and then get it back when they return it.

They had to make a quick change in production in late March, however, when its largest retail customer, Hannaford, informed them that it would no longer allow customers to return glass bottles because of COVID-19 concerns.

It took less than three weeks to order, buy and install new machinery designed to attach and seal caps on plastic bottles, along with their own labels, at a cost of some $12,500. This speedy switch was successful, according to Jamie Robertson, who heads the family operation that includes his wife, Heather, and their three sons, all working to become fifth-generation owners.

“We are continuing to bottle 20% of our cows’ production – now 10% in glass and 10% in plastic,” Robertson explained. “We continue to wholesale the 80% to Agri-Mark.”

Smaller retail stores are able to handle the glass bottle returns without raising concerns. Having greater flexibility, Robertson said, could help the creamery increase the percentage of their cows’ total production that they can pasteurize and sell and reduce the amount sold to Agri-Mark.