John Cottrell has said an emotional farewell to the people of Wellington after closing his nearly 100-year-old business.
A year on from wrapping up the firm's milk delivery service, Mr Cottrell has announced the sale of Gundeham Dairy to Chew Valley Dairy.
The sale brings an end to almost a century of milk production and delivery from the Cottrell family farm in Langford Budville, which saw the firm win multiple awards, and even earn royal recognition.
The business was started in 1928 by Mr Cottrell's grandfather, when he purchased the farm and began to deliver milk around Wellington with a pony and trap. It was one of a number of dairy suppliers in the area at the time, but the only one to survive for so long.
But 78-year-old Mr Cottrell said the pressures of maintaining the businesses had become untenable, with difficulties getting staff, soaring delivery costs, and the enduring impact of Covid continuing to bite. He explained: "Covid changed everything. We never missed a single day all through Covid but it cost us a tremendous amount of money. "When Covid ended the trade that we picked up melted away because it all went back to the supermarkets again. The cost of delivery was going up and up and getting replacement staff was a problem."
After bringing an end to the historic door-to-door delivery service, Gundeham continued to supply its customers, who included Hinkley Point C and hospitals across Bristol. It was for the farm's work with the healthcare sector that Mr Cottrell was recognised by royalty and invited to a luncheon with then Prince Charles at Clarence House. Recalling the event Mr Cottrell said:
"I was proud to meet then Prince Charles through our work with the NHS. There was a scheme which Prince Charles was involved in aimed at getting better quality food into hospitals. He rang the local soil association in Bristol to find where he could get organic milk and they suggested us. "We did a lot of work with them in diet control and meals and so on. Prince Charles held this luncheon at Clarence House and they asked me if I’d like to join them, which I did. It was impressive, it was a buffet lunch with 30 or 40 people there. He spoke to every single person in that room, he knew exactly who we were and what we did and so on."
It was one of a number of triumphs scored by the company in its long history, including winning the Radio 4 Food and Farming Award, winning the 'the best dairy product' award in The Taste of the West contest, among many others.
After selling the business to Chew Valley, Mr Cottrell encouraged his customers to take their business to the new firm, praising their ethos and practices. He said: "We have now sold the business to another family business Chew Valley Dairy, including our customer base and some of our machinery – our business has now closed down. We have urged our customers to go with Chew Valley. "They have similar ethics to ourselves, low food miles, local supply, all the stuff we have been doing for decades."
Mr Cottrell said the decision to walk away from the business had not been an easy one, but said it was "The best we could make at the time." Until recently the local farm was producing 3 million lites of milk a year, with a herd of just under 300 cows. Much of that space is now rented to other dairy farmers, with some of the farm's land turned over to arable use, growing parsnips and swedes.
Mr Cottrell had a message of thanks to give for his customers from Wellington and beyond. He said: "I’d like to thank our customers, for their custom over the years, they have been very very loyal and we have had some fantastic phone calls and messages thanking us.
"Only this morning we got a call from a lady who lives in Dunster to say thank you for the clotted cream we used to supply to a local Deli which was trademarked as ‘dollop’ and she said ‘I don’t know where I’m going to find another decent clotted cream.’ "Thanks to our staff who have been fantastic, right to the very end. It has been a pleasure to get to know so many friends as I know them."