Milk & More, the UK’s biggest traditional doorstep milk delivery firm, has come under fire for its decision to become an online-only service, which could leave elderly or vulnerable shoppers cut off from what has been a vital pandemic support.
The business, owned by the German dairy company Müller, has written to customers telling them that if they want their deliveries to continue after 24 April, they must set up an online account. The change affects people who use its call centre or pay via a bank transfer.
Milk & More has faced a backlash on social media over the digital move.
“I see from a letter received today that you no longer want to serve elderly people who do not use the internet,” wrote Michael Yarrow on the Milk & More Facebook page. “Shame on you.”
Another customer, Denise Dunford, wrote that her neighbour, who was in her 90s and paid by direct debit, was affected. “I’m disgusted and hope many more customers will think twice about using a company who completely cut out those not online.”
Milk & More says the change is vital to “securing the future of the British doorstep delivery service”, which had, until recently, been in decline for more than 40 years.
It employs more than 1,000 delivery staff who serve more than half a million households across a large part of England.
Müller acquired a heavily loss-making business from Dairy Crest in 2015 and has successfully relaunched the service, which delivers 200 grocery products as well as milk.
It has signed up 175,000 new online customers over the past two years as the coronavirus lockdowns, coupled with concerns about plastic waste, resulted in Britons embracing the service, which delivers 90% of its pints in reusable glass bottles.
The Liberal Democrat peer Kate Parminter said the company should show “social responsibility” after she was alerted to the matter by her parents, who are in their 80s. She says she will help her parents, who do not have internet access, but fears those without support risk losing an important service.
“This is being done during a pandemic when elderly and vulnerable people are reliant on getting their milk and bread delivered,” Parminter says. “Deliveries will be cut off on 24 April, which is still within the period of lockdown. I was frankly disgusted that a company couldn’t grow a bit more social responsibility.”
Milk & More says that in order to protect the jobs of hundreds of colleagues and suppliers, it made the decision to become an online-only business in December 2020. However, “due to the health crisis and the lockdown”, it decided to delay the process. The company says 80% of its business is already online.
The Covid-19 vaccine programme and easing of lockdown means now is the “right time” to make the transition, the company says.
It adds that if a customer cannot obtain an online account, it will help them, where possible, to find an alternative supplier.
During the past couple of years, Milk & More has featured a number of times in Guardian Money’s Consumer Champions column, with some readers reporting problems with deliveries, payments and other matters. It emerged last autumn that the company was operating online-only trials in some areas.