Celebrating its centenary year of business, Riverina Fresh discusses its longevity in the dairy industry, relationships with farmers, and its connection to the specialty coffee industry.
In a dynamic market with unremitting change, 100 years of business is testament to having a quality-driven product that’s connected to its target market.
Riverina Fresh has been supplying fresh milk and dairy since 1922. Company CEO Rob Collier says this is a significant milestone that reflects the strong history of dairy and agricultural production in the Riverina region, and the resilience and expertise of its employees, farmers, and partners.
“I think the longevity reflects the support from both the local community in the Riverina and surrounding regions and in more recent years, from consumers and café partners in city centres” says Rob.
Although the products and capabilities of Riverina Fresh have evolved considerably over the years, it still produces from the same location in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, established 100 years ago.
“The changes over the last 100 years have been significant both at an industry level and for Riverina Fresh. We now work with much higher levels of safety, automation, speed, efficiency, and quality control. These have provided benefits like longer product shelf life, which has allowed regional producers like Riverina Fresh to supply high quality fresh milk across the country,” Rob says.
Looking back over the company’s history, Rob says its biggest achievement has been a consistent focus on innovation and a willingness to adopt new technology.
“There have been many examples of equipment and technology improvements in our facility over its history, like the introduction of pasteurisation in the 1940s. In more recent years, that focus has extended across our supply chain, from farms all the way through to the point of delivery,” he says. “There are many different ways to innovate, apply technology and make improvements. We have recently adopted new software to give our farmers faster and more accurate data on their milk composition and quality so they can optimise their operations. Even the way our café and foodservice customers now predominately order online and manage their transactions electronically is very different to five years ago.”
Rob adds that Riverina’s farmer relationships have been crucial to the brand’s market success.
“Like most regional dairies, Riverina Fresh was originally established as a cooperative by local farmers, so they have been a crucial part of our history. While we are now a 100 per cent Australian owned private company, our farmers are still part of the Riverina Fresh family and have a lot of passion and pride about what they do and to be supplying their milk locally to a business that has been in operation for 100 years,” he says.
“Dairy farming is tough with a lot of challenges, whether it be drought, floods, or economic pressures. Despite these challenges we have committed farmers who continue to invest and improve their operations and strive for excellence.”
One of those farmers is Rachael Napier, a partner at Gallpen Dairy in the Southern Riverina, who partnered with Riverina Fresh in 2017.
“We had a strong passion for the future of dairy and were looking for a business and brand who could provide a family vibe, a smaller more intimate relationship where we matter,” Rachael says.
She says Riverina Fresh has found a “winning formula” that combines the milk’s silky-smooth composition perfectly with the heady scent of freshly brewed coffee. She says the difference in taste also lies in how deeply she cares for her animals.
“An enormous amount of love and attention to detail is involved in our business. Our cows have family names, annual holidays, a personal nutritionist and are monitored 24/7. We like to treat every cow like she’s our only cow, and we think you can taste the difference,” Rachael says.
John and Megan Hay run their dairy farm in Mayrung, in southern New South Wales. They partnered with Riverina Fresh because it is a 100 per cent Australian owned company that specialises in premium milk for domestic consumption.
“Riverina Fresh’s direction was congruent with our desire to ‘love our neighbours’,” says Megan. “In the Riverina Fresh family, everyone from our milkers on farm, to baristas in their cafés, values the quality of the milk. Our hard work is appreciated down the line.”
The Hays also enjoy how easily Riverina Fresh’s owners and team engage with farmers and how open they are about their own processes, challenges, and goals.
“In farming, there are so many volatilities, so it’s nice that some things are reliably consistent. The stability that comes from supplying an adaptive, century-old company is reassuring,” Megan says.
Dairy farmer Jo Burn of Arcadia Park in Southern New South Wales is proud to be part of Riverina Fresh’s history. She says she’d love to see the next generation realise the importance of the dairy industry to the Australian economy.
“The opportunities in dairy farming are unlimited and companies like Riverina Fresh have demonstrated that they are here for the long term. My hope is that through partnering with businesses like ours, that Riverina Fresh will continue to provide high-quality products that have already stood the test of time for 100 years,” Jo says.
Paul and Claire Grinter are from Boonal Downs farm in Muckatah. Claire describes Riverina Fresh as “an extension of our family”.
“We loved the balance between being big enough to be relevant into the future and small enough to be intimate, so that we could feel part of a team,” Claire says.
Claire says the partnership since 2019 is one they can lean on when times are tough, and equally gives her a bigger purpose.
“People love their coffee, so to know your efforts can contribute in a small way to another person’s happiness. It helps you feel proud of what you do,” she says.
Riverina Fresh’s commitment to the specialty coffee industry was recognised with its appointment as official milk supplier to the 2022 World Barista Championship (WBC).
“This has been a huge highlight for the whole Riverina Fresh family. We were extremely proud to have a regional Australian dairy producer on the world stage for such a significant event,” Rob says.
“To have the WBC culminate in Anthony Douglas being crowned World Barista Champion capped off a great result for the Australian coffee industry. Anthony used his own blend of Riverina Fresh milks with his coffees, and we have been proud to support him with milk on the Australian stage for the past seven years.”
According to Anthony, Riverina Fresh milk gets the best out of any coffee he’s worked with.
“The team at Riverina Fresh really understand coffee and what the Australian consumer is looking for in a milk-based beverage. Most customers that walk through our doors at Axil Coffee are looking for a milk drink that has the perfect marriage between coffee flavour, and the sweetness and texture from the milk. As a barista, this can be a hard balance to achieve as some milks can have not enough or too much of certain elements. Riverina just makes it so easy to tick all those boxes,” says Anthony.
It was this suitability that made using Riverina Fresh milk for Anthony’s cryodessication milk creation, a no-brainer on the WBC stage.
“Riverina Fresh has always been the perfect milk choice in competition as it allowed me to best represent the flavours of the coffees I use. When it came to using experimental techniques such as cryodessication (a low temperature dehydration process), it made sense to use the best possible product I could, and the results spoke for themselves,” says Anthony.
He adds that Riverna Fresh has always supported him throughout his career and looks forward to continuing the partnership.
“I’ve always had a great relationship with Riverina Fresh. They understand the coffee industry and the role milk plays within that dynamic. The product is amazing and the people in the company are extremely passionate, quality driven, and supportive,” he says.
Axil Coffee Founder Dave Makin adds that the roastery has been a long-time supporter of the brand, also sending some of his team to visit Riverina Fresh farms and spent time with its technical teams.
“Riverina has been amazing. The main reason that we’re still with them today is because yes, the milk is great, but it’s also about the Riverina team and the support we get from them. They’re really passionate about the coffee industry and really passionate about seeing Axil Coffee do well,” Dave says.
Riverina Fresh has been fortunate to partner with some of Australia’s leading coffee roasters over the years to help develop their milks and other dairy products, working closely with the teams at Ona Coffee and more recently, St Remio.
“We’ve only just discovered the magic of Riverina Fresh’s Gold milk. It’s the gold standard of milk,” says St Remio Co- Founder Trent Knox.
“I first came across the brand at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE), tried a bottle, paired it with our coffee, and we were blown away. We started collaborating and encouraging our customers to use it. We also decided to use Riverina Fresh milk at each of our pop-up sites at the Melbourne Cup Carnival last year, to which St Remio are proud to have a three-year partnership with the Victoria Racing Club as the exclusive, on-course coffee partner.”
Partnerships like these are what Riverina Fresh is committed to developing in future and helping evolve both their dairy and foodservice distribution capabilities.
“No doubt there will be challenges, just as there has been across our history. Innovation will remain a key focus and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with other like-minded people and business that share our passion for improvement,” Rob says.
“Our local communities, farmers and partners will continue to be a significant part of our future.”
For more information, visit www. riverinafresh.com.au
This article appears in the February 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.