The days when almost everyone had milk delivered to their door may be a dim memory, but two dairies in the Buffalo Niagara region are keeping the service alive.
Hillside Dairy in Akron and Hoover Dairy in Sanborn are the last two area dairies that deliver. They are among the nearly 150 dairies in the nation still making the regular trek from truck to doorstep.
"We are sort of a well-kept secret," said Bradley Hellert of Hillside Dairy. Most of his business is generated by customer referrals.
Hoover Dairy has been delivering milk -- in glass bottles -- and other dairy products in Niagara County for about 90 years, according to Rob Hoover, a sixth generation member of the Hoover dairy family.
"It wasn't until the 1920s that my great-grandfather started delivering milk," Hoover said, though the dairy has been in the Hoover family since 1870.
In an age when personal service can give a business a competitive edge, some think milk delivery is poised for a comeback. Delivered goods do cost more, but for some customers there are extra benefits.
"The secret of our success has been delivering the freshest and best product with the best possible service," Hellert said.
Hellert interacts with his customers regularly. In some cases, not only does Hellert deliver fresh milk, but he acts as a second set of eyes for the families of his elderly customers.
"I am able to keep an eye on things throughout the week because I am invited into homes and make sure my elderly customers have fresh product. I've even been asked to help with small jobs like changing a light bulb or helping with a pet," Hellert said.
David Gerber, a veteran customer of Hellert, has had his milk delivered for over 25 years.
"Getting my milk delivered is easier than picking it up in the store. The convenience factor is great," Gerber said.
Gerber said he enjoys the personal attention he gets from Hellert.
"Mr. Hellert is a good guy. I always talk with him and fool around when ever he delivers. I always have a pleasant interaction with him.
Aside from the personal service element, Hoover cites the nostalgia appeal for some customers.
"We use glass bottles for our milk, which customers seem to like. It reminds them of simpler times."
Roughly one percent of Americans get their milk delivered, said Jim Carroll of Carroll Consulting, based in Sharon, Mass. Carroll, a former dairy farm worker, has served as coordinator to the International Home Delivery Association for the past decade.
According to Carroll, although the home delivery industry suffered greatly during the 1960s and 1970s with the advent of the supermarket, the industry has experienced growth in recent years. One hundred fifty dairy companies have membership in the IHDA.
"More new companies enter the industry every year, whether it's someone branching off an existing dairy or a new independent company just starting up," Carroll said. "Overall, there is an interest in home delivery with the busy society we live in. Home delivery is a conveniently priced service that does save people time."
While Carroll does not see the home delivery of milk returning to its heyday, he does foresee the continual growth in the industry in the coming decade.
Mark Serling, director of marketing for Upstate Niagara Cooperative, said advancements in technology have made fresh milk more accessible to the masses. This availability has spurred significant growth in the dairy industry as a whole in recent years.
"It used to be everyone had their milk delivered because many of the producers didn't have the facilities to keep the milk cold for long periods of time. Now with the advancements in technology and refrigeration, milk producers can have product that can keep longer and have no difference from milk that is home delivered," Serling said.
On an average day, Hellert makes between 50 and 60 deliveries. Hoover, his father, Bob and brother, Thomas, make between 110 and 120 deliveries.
"Generally, my business comes from people who live where supermarkets and corner stores aren't as accessible," Hellert said.
No matter where they live, Hoover and Hellert said, their customers enjoy their milk for its freshness and taste.
"Our product is fresher than what can be bought in the stores and doesn't travel as much. I've even had customers tell me our skim milk tastes like regular 2 percent milk," Hoover said.
Michelle Stevens, Hellert's customer of nine years, said, "Brad is a great guy. His milk is always delivered no matter what the weather and is always fresh."
For Hoover and Hellert, the job is more than simply lugging dairy products to people's houses.
"It's something I can't explain. I've grown up around this and have been doing it for 30 years," said Hoover.
Hellert loves the contact he has with his customers and the amount of satisfaction the job gives him.
Laughing, Hellert said, "The job gives me good exercise. Besides, my wife says I have milk running through my veins."