‘We want to reset the throwaway society’: A Q&A with Modern Milkman CEO and Founder Simon Mellin
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in the food industry — my granddad was a farmer, and my dad was a butcher. I worked with them both and got a really broad understanding of food production as a child. After I finished school, I trained as an engineer in motorsport and travelled the world building racing cars. That experience made me really value what I had learned as a kid, since I realised in being away from the food industry that many people don’t understand the value of food and where it comes from. I was inspired to start building food businesses, all with the same underlying plan of reconnecting people with food.
I built two businesses before Modern Milkman with the mission of digitising groceries or supplying digitised grocers. The first was an online butcher shop and the second business specialised in packaging products for online retailers. My background made me understand how urgently the packaging used to put food through the supply chain needed resetting and I also noticed a gap in the market when it came to facilitating small basket, high frequency grocery.
Why did you found Modern Milkman?
In 2018, I was watching an episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series with my wife Becky and we were shocked at just how much plastic ends up in our oceans. With my existing experience in the food industry, I thought I could combine a mission of sustainability and reducing that plastic waste with making digital grocery shopping easier for consumers. That’s how Modern Milkman was born.
I initially set up a milk round in our local area of Colne in Leicestershire and began waking up at 1am to deliver milk — much to Becky’s annoyance! Two or three weeks after my first milk round, I went out to collect the money and I immediately understood why the concept of the milk round had died out previously. It’s impossible to get paid. No one’s in and no one has any cash.
We knew that technology could fix the problem and with it we could broaden our offering and optimise our routes too. We realised we could grow and expand this business. We have been working on building from those same principles ever since.
What is the mission of your business?
Our mission is to reset the throwaway society. We want to challenge the linear thinking around buying products, using them and then throwing them away. Instead, we can shop more ethically and Modern Milkman can help to remove the hassle from that process.
Sustainability can be a scary topic for the consumer, since there’s so many brands offering different solutions, greenwashing and competing with each other, it can be hard to know what to do as an individual. The consumer can feel overwhelmed and ultimately shy away from the realities of the issue. We bring the customer on the journey and remove the hassle from making the change through technological innovation. We want to find ways of changing people’s habits without compromising their convenience.
What is your proudest achievement so far in building the business?
We recently reached a milestone of 50 million plastic bottles saved, which was a huge achievement. Our ambition has grown as the business has grown. The business was set up around the mission of removing packaging waste but once we got into the habit of delivering things through the traditional milkman process, we quickly realised that the bigger problem you can solve with this company is food waste. We are constantly working on moving the consumer away from big basket shopping and into little and often buying habits. We waste 30% of the food that we produce in the world, but 80% of that 30% is wasted in the household. Through monitoring our buying habits, we can significantly reduce the impact of that.
What is a milestone for 2023?
The next big milestone for us will be 100 million plastic bottles saved. We have invested heavily in innovation to pack a greater variety of products in returnable packaging, including a yoghurt pot and dry and ambient goods, and we are also expanding our geographical reach. Part of our recent investment round was made up by Avery Dennison and they are working with us to develop smart technology for packaging tracking, so that we can begin life cycle analysis and understand the return rates of our products. That is another big topic that we’re working on for 2023.
How has ETF Partners’ support helped shape the business?
The insight on sustainability that we have gained from ETF Partners and their involvement is invaluable. This is a rapidly changing industry, and it can be difficult to build a business while keeping up to date with the latest developments. ETF Partners has helped immeasurably with its continuous insight on market changes. As our investor base has grown, it has also been incredibly important to have ETF Partners as such a strong impact partner at board level, driving board governance around sustainability.