Sunday, September 23, 2018

Keeping it in the family

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

Farming really is a family affair for Hannah Kinston and John Davies. Simon Wragg reports.

When most students are incurring debt during their studies, degree students Hannah Kinston and John Davies are financing a prospective future in food by selling cheeses made from a family-run 800-cow dairy herd and its milk buyer.

The students – both 21 and having met at Netherseal Young Farmers Club – have set up John and Hannah Ltd. The fledgling business, started up with £500 of savings each, was inspired by an Open Farm Sunday event at Hannah’s home – Stanton House Farm, near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire

Hannah explains: “We’ve hosted the event for a few years and invited our milk buyer – Joseph Heler – in 2016. The company gave us the opportunity to sell cheeses made from milk from our dairy herd. And we sold quite a lot in just four hours.”

That sparked an idea between the couple to start a sales venture. Although Hannah is studying vet medicine at Sutton Bonnington, Notts, and John studies Agri Business at Harper Adams, Shrops, the business brings them together throughout each month.

Local customers

“We managed to catch the end of the summer shows that year and continued the cheese sales by making hampers for a handful of local businesses the following Christmas,” she adds.

Today, the business hosts free cheese tasting and sales events at John’s family home – Lodge Farm, Snarestone, Derbyshire (an arable and beef unit) – on the last Saturday of each month. Social media – and a website at www.johnandhannahltd.co.uk – is used widely to attract customers ranging from single mums to retirees.

“Having spent some time looking at production at Helers it was inspiring to see how so many people work together to get the range of cheeses made. It has so many markets and can go in so many directions,” she enthuses.

What to stock and sell has been helped tremendously by listening to advice from the family-led team at the cheese-maker (now run by Michael and George Heler). “We get to know what’s popular from their sales team and it can contain some surprises. For example, a Red Leicester flavoured with Geeta’s Indian Mango Chutney which has a very distinctive curried aroma and flavour.”

Generally, Hannah deals with the social media side and John does the ordering. But not everything has gone smoothly, she explains: “John was busy with exams before one Christmas so I thought I’d help and do the ordering. However, instead of 30kg I bought 300kg by mistake. Fortunately, it all got sold – just.”

Company portfolio

Other products have come into the company’s portfolio. Sweet cream and whey from Heler’s ‘eatlean’ protein cheese is processed into butter which the couple supply to farm shops including Chatsworth in Derbyshire’s Peak District and Bradshaws near Cannock. Stilton – supplied from the Long Clawson dairy in Leicestershire via Helers – helps round up the cheese platter.

Not wanting to sit on their laurels, the couple have been banking hard won profits rather than taking a wage. That’s allowed them to build up a small capital fund from which to finance new ventures.

The latest is rose veal beef burgers – snappily trademarked ‘Jersey Boy Beef’ to be launched this autumn. “We want something that’ll go viral on social media,” says Hannah whose planning a ‘burger with a bang’ in time for fireworks night.

“Dairy bull calves are often an unwanted by-product so we wanted to find a way to give them value. We’re running a trial as part of my degree to rear 25 calves on milk powder and concentrate to around six months old.”

The family dairy herd is largely crossbred cows with a high proportion of Jersey to help achieve good milk constituents (the business sells around 5m litres annually at 4.5% butterfat and 3.6% protein). The study will cost out rearing and look at meat yield.

Aside from primals and selected offal, the remainder will be processed into high quality burgers aimed at younger consumers.

Separate venture

John adds: “We’re trying to keep this venture separate from cheese sales as for some it’s still a controversial subject. But finding a market for these calves has to be better than the alternative.”

Both partners see the business as being part of their future together but remain committed to finishing their individual degrees.

For Hannah’s parents – John and Linda – the venture completes the food circle from field to fork. Mr Kinston says: “We produce the milk and it’s been good to see some of it coming back to Hannah and John and to be involved in seeing them sell it.

“It has to be said Helers have been very supportive even helping fit out the on-farm cold store with racking.”

John’s parents – John and Carol – share Hannah’s parents pride in the couple’s dynamic determination to forge a future in food, suggests their son. “I like to think they’re proud that we’re building a future alongside working for our degrees,” he adds.

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