Southern Ill. dairy closure to impact ‘Farm Fresh’ stores, customers

Dairy Business closing

PERRYVILLE, Mo. (KFVS) - ‘Farm Fresh’ milk from a glass bottle will soon be a thing of the past.

Heartland customers are calling it the end of an era, and stores that sell it are expecting to lose business.

The popular product is made by the Chester Dairy Company, which announced it’s ceasing operations on December 31, 2019.

The small regional dairy supplier opened in Chester, Illinois in 1932, and it’s locally sourced products are sold at dozens of stores in Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri.

The Farm Fresh Store in Perryville, Missouri is owned and managed by Ron Courtois who said it’s been in his family for about five decades.

Courtois said the glass bottles of milk are by far his best seller, and sometimes it’s the only thing a customer purchases.

“It’s fresh milk and it just tastes better in a glass bottle. When they learn that it’s kind of all over with. They’re hooked,” Courtois said. “Customers are beside themselves. They never thought it would go away. They’ve been saying it forever. ‘If they ever get rid of that bottle I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ Well that day has come unfortunately.”

Perryville local Kelsey Meyer said she buys glass bottles of white and chocolate milk from Farm Fresh on a weekly basis for her family and for her preschool students.

“I was devastated when I heard the news,” Meyer said. “My mom and dad shopped here so I’ve always been a Farm Fresh milk drinker. One of my sons said ‘Mom just get a bunch and we’ll put it somewhere.’ I said ‘Well milk expires buddy. It’s not like that.’ I think they are going to be torn the most."

Malinda Milam owns M Kay Supply in Benton, Missouri. She said she drives more than an hour just to pick up Fresh Farm products and resell them to share the experience with others.

“You can’t just find glass bottled milk anywhere," Milam said. "It’s something like grandma and grandpa would have. It reminds you of whenever they would bring glass bottle milk to your door step. It’s old fashioned and we’re just losing that.”

In November, the biggest milk processor in the United States Dean Farms filed for bankruptcy.

Courtious said he realized Chester Dairy Company could be struggling when he saw the production of dairy products start to slow down.

“It’s the expenses. Everything has went up," Courtois said. "Milk sales have decreased over the years, and its partly because they couldn’t compete the big stores below cost pricing. That makes a difference. A guy is making a product from a raw material, and he’s trying to sell it. He is doing the best he can, but he still has to have enough money to operate.”

Courtious said his Farm Fresh store will stay open and will be transitioning to selling Prairie Farm Dairy products.

Courtious added that Prairie Farms will be private labeling Farm Fresh gallons and half-gallons of milk in plastic containers for the stores.

Customers like Meyer said they plan to continue supporting the business.

“I will continue coming here absolutely," Meyer said. "I will still shop at Farm Fresh, but it won’t be the same milk for sure.”

Effective Dec. 23, Courtois Farm Fresh Stores will no longer be charging $1 glass bottle deposit. They will give a $1 credit on all bottles returned the week of Dec. 23 through the time they leave to get their last load of Farm Fresh milk from Chester Dairy Co. on Friday, Dec. 27. After that date, no credit will be given for returned glass bottles.

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