The 12 organic dairy suppliers to Falmouth-based MOO Milk have decided to disband the company permanently and go their separate ways, MOO officials said Monday.
The farms had received a tentative offer from Oakhurst Dairy on Thursday that would have kept them together as a group and returned Maine’s Own Organic Milk, or MOO Milk, to store shelves, but several farmers said they were dissatisfied with the offer. The farmers formed a collaborative in 2010 to deliver Maine-based, organic milk to retailers throughout New England. In May, MOO Milk stopped selling to 200 retailers, citing problems with its carton-filling equipment. The farmers have been looking for a new buyer of their milk since then.
Critics of the Oakhurst proposal said the offer was too low and would have left the farmers with too few long-term guarantees. The farmers said Oakhurst was willing to pay the same price that MOO had been paying them, about $36 per hundredweight, but that it was not willing to pay a premium to acquire the MOO Milk brand.
MOO officials said in a news release that the farmers now plan to pursue individual agreements for the sale of their organic milk, rather than staying together as a team and contracting with a single entity. The collaborative, formed as a low-profit corporation, was selling between 8,000 and 10,000 gallons of organic milk per week.
“Each farmer has their own geographic challenges, set of priorities and values,” MOO CEO Bill Eldridge said in the release. “It simply made sense for each farm to form their own relationships going forward.”
Once the direct-to-consumer sales ceased, company officials continued to wholesale the farmers’ organic milk to yogurt-maker Stonyfield Farm while searching for a way to revive the MOO Milk brand.
That effort failed in part because the Oakhurst deal would have required 11 of the 12 farms to remain as suppliers. At least three of the farms, including Rocky Ledge Farm in Perry, were planning to reject Oakhurst’s proposal.
“That … deal is an insult to the farmers,” Rocky Ledge owner Herbert McPhail said Monday. “It’s beyond an insult.”
MOO officials said the farmers have been released from their supplier contracts, effective immediately, so they can pursue their own supplier agreements with other organic dairy providers.
“For the present, there is no plan to revive the MOO Milk retail brand,” the release said.
At least three companies have approached the MOO farmers with potential supplier agreements: Oakhurst, Stonyfield and Wisconsin-based Organic Valley.
Only the Oakhurst proposal would have returned MOO Milk to store shelves under its original name.
Oakhurst co-president Tom Brigham said in a news release that the Portland-based dairy had been an early supporter of MOO Milk and had hoped to keep the brand alive. Oakhurst donated its decommissioned carton-filling equipment to MOO Milk and helped deliver the organic milk to retailers.
“While we are disappointed that an agreement could not be reached with all the MOO Milk farmers and keep the MOO brand on the shelf, we remain committed to supporting local Maine dairy farms and hope Maine consumers will, as well,” Brigham said. “We wish all these Maine farms well as they make their decisions in the coming weeks.”
Spencer Aitel, owner of Two Loons Farm in South China, said it is possible that at least some of the farms would stick together and even try to bring back the MOO Milk brand at some point in the future.
“I think there’s still a bond between us,” he said.
Eldridge told the Press Herald that he believes the MOO Milk brand still has value, and that it could be sold to a group of farmers or some other entity in the future. There are about 60 organic dairy farms in Maine.
The failure of the Oakhurst deal is in some ways a positive development, Aitel said.
It was unclear whether consumers would have continued to purchase MOO Milk under Oakhurst, he said, because part of MOO’s appeal was its operation as a small collaborative of Maine farms.
Consumer demand for organic dairy products remains high, Aitel said, and it is likely that each of the farms would have a number of options more appealing than the failed Oakhurst deal.
Aitel said the last scheduled pickup by MOO for wholesaling to Stonyfield is July 19.
“We’ve got 12 days to find a deal,” he said.