By Kevin McManus
January 14, 2021
While restaurateurs were quick to go all in on delivery when the pandemic hit, America’s farmers took notice, too.
Riley Steiner doesn’t wear the same uniform as the neighborhood milkman of simpler times. The 21-year-old driver wasn’t even alive at the height of the profession. He does, however, wear a T-shirt with his business name — The Modern Milkman — printed on the front and a simple question on the back: “Who’s your milkman?”
It’s a practice he refers to as “transparent dairy,” with products going directly from Ohio farmers’ milking parlors to the doorsteps of local customers in order to provide the freshest quality possible.
“We thought about doing home delivery in the Fall of 2019. Then when COVID hit, it really sunk in to do this,” he said. “Everyone was going to online ordering. Everybody needed stuff at their door.”
In a delivery area now stretching from Wooster north to Parma, he drives a Ford Transit Cargo van modified with refrigeration storage nearly 200 miles and 70 to 80 stops a day to serve his current 230+subscribers by leaving a variety of dairy products on their doorsteps.
Each week subscribers choose the size of their fixed-price share and customize the order to their liking — milk, heavy cream, eggs, cheese, butter, yogurt, sweets, bread and more. Three days before delivery, they receive a text message to confirm or modify their share before products are left on their doorstep in insulated bags or porch boxes available for additional purchase.
“All of the products are from Ohio or family-owned farms,” he said. “We get our products from a variety of local businesses around the state of Ohio, we have to find the right family businesses that are big enough to supply us the quantity we need but also small enough to meet who we are focused on supporting.”
If a subscriber goes on vacation or does not need a share in a given week, they can respond to the automated text message with “pause” to not receive a delivery or be charged or they can also reply “donate” and instead have their order sent to a local food pantry or they can add a household they know in as the delivery address on their account and have it delivered to them as long as they are in the delivery area. “The main thing we try to do is partner with local businesses, deliver those products to our customers door and save them the runaround,” he said. “Supporting your local economy is what the future is all about.”
The Modern Milkman is owned and operated by members of Pine Tree Dairy, based in Marshallville and operated by Matt Steiner and his family. Pine Tree has a stake in a number of Buckeye Country Creameries supplying products, raising cows in state-of-the-art barns with regulated temperatures and bedding while exclusively feeding them home-grown hay and corn.
Riley Steiner, coincidentally, is not blood related to the family but married one of Matt’s 40 grandchildren, Hannah Steiner, in early 2020.
“I just happen to have the same last name,” he said with a laugh.
Andrew Steiner — one of Matt’s 11 children who is part of Pine Tree’s cow genetics program — is a longtime friend of Riley’s and has been assisting in the Modern Milkman venture from a logistics perspective.
“Our No. 1 skill is identifying the businesses so that you who want these products don’t have to drive to five places on a Saturday. But you can’t just sell nostalgia; you have to sell value,” Andrew Steiner said.
Northeast Ohio’s Modern Milkman is actually an affiliate of friends in Connecticut who own the parent company by the same name. The Steiners purchased their software and business model.
“You know franchisees, we are a third cousin to that,” Andrew Steiner said. “They’re like mentoring us. Obviously, there’s no competition for home delivery between here and there, so it was a good fit for us.”
“We’re always looking to diversify (farm operations),” Riley Steiner added. “We took a challenge when we got started back in August.”