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Glass milk bottles are back at select Farm Fresh stores in Southern Illinois

From the The state of recycling in Southern Illinois: Which plastic to throw in your bin, and how the global economy matters series
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An Oberweis Dairy delivery man unloads the company's first shipment of half-gallon glass milk bottles to the Farm Fresh of Carterville store on Wednesday morning. 

Back by popular demand: Glass milk bottles at select Farm Fresh stores.

Several independently owned Farm Fresh stores have inked deals with Oberweis Dairy to carry on the years-old Southern Illinois tradition. This development comes after Chester Dairy, long the supplier of milk in iconic half-gallon glass bottles under the Farm Fresh label, closed its dairy operation last month.

Oberweis Dairy, based in North Aurora, began offering its glass bottle milk products this week at Farm Fresh stores in Carterville, Du Quoin and Murphysboro in Southern Illinois, and in the Metro East locations of Belleville, Bethalto, Granite City, Alton and East Alton, according to Andy Trefonas, Oberweis Dairy’s vice president of retail sales.

These new sales agreements mark Oberweis’ first foray into the Southern Illinois market. The timing made sense with the opportunity that opened up as Chester Dairy’s dairy operation closed, Trefonas said.

“We heard about the stores, and Chester Dairy, and that part of the state of Illinois seems to have a lot of customers that like milk in glass bottles,” he said. “We’re happy to serve those customers.”

The Farm Fresh stores under the ownership of Chester Dairy (those in Anna, Centralia, Benton, Harrisburg, Herrin and West Frankfort) are not part of the sales agreements with Oberweis Dairy; only those stores that are independently owned are offering Oberweis products.

All of the Farm Fresh stores are continuing to offer milk under the Farm Fresh label, though it is now supplied by Prairie Farms Dairy. The Farm Fresh label milk is no longer available in a glass bottle. Rather, its half-gallon products are packaged in a clear plastic jug that is shaped similarly to the glass ones. They are not returnable but are recyclable. The stores also carry Prairie Farms Dairy milk and other products under the Prairie Farms label. 

Chester Dairy’s decision to cease its dairy operation was met with disappointment throughout the region. The company’s roots date back to 1932, and it was truly a local operation. The dairy farm’s products stayed within a 100-mile radius to ensure freshness.

The half-gallon glass milk bottles, a relic of the past, helped make the milk-and-bread stores a unique part of the fabric of Southern Illinois' small towns. Customers paid a $1 deposit for the bottle, and that same amount was deducted from their bill each time they returned a bottle and made a new milk or juice purchase.

Dave Armstrong, who took over as owner of the Carterville Farm Fresh store in October 2018, said that it is always difficult when a local business closes, especially one to which people have such nostalgic ties.

“We knew that a lot of our customers were pretty upset about losing the glass bottles,” he said. “With this change, I felt like we were losing something that was meaningful to people — the milk in glass was meaningful.”

Armstrong said that’s why he sought out alternatives for glass bottle milk products when Chester Dairy announced its closure, and the end of glass bottle delivery. Oberweis Dairy offers several different options, and Armstrong said he chose its organic milk line. It is an option for people who want “the most premium milk they can get in Southern Illinois,” he said. He also chose to add several flavors of Oberweis Dairy ice cream to store shelves. Armstrong noted his store continues to offer the Farm Fresh label milk by Prairie Farms and said it's also a quality milk product.

But the enthusiasm for glass bottles is evident.  

When the Du Quoin Farm Fresh, owned by Mike Patel, announced its business agreement with Oberweis Dairy for glass bottled milk to its Facebook page this week, the post received nearly 350 likes, shares and comments. “Great news!” one person wrote; “Praise God!!” said another. “A lot of people ask about the glass bottles,” Patel said. As of this week, his store is selling regular and chocolate Oberweis Dairy milk in glass bottles.

Trefonas said the company has been packaging milk in glass bottles for 93 years. "Milk is always going to taste better, colder and fresher in a glass bottle," he said. People who are environmentally conscious appreciate that the bottles are cleaned and reused multiple times before they are recycled, and "there's a nostalgia piece to it" that makes it a popular option, he said. 

Trefonas said nine other grocers in the Southern Illinois and Metro East market have begun carrying its dairy products, in addition to the Farm Fresh stores. They are: Country Mart in Freeburg; Gateway Market in East St. Louis; Hansen Meat Co. in Jerseyville and Alton; Red Bud IGA; Joe’s Market Basket in Edwardsville; Myers Korner Market in Prairie du Rocher; Rozier’s County Market in Chester and Tom’s Supermarket in Mascoutah.

The glass bottle charge for Oberweis Dairy products is $1.50; the same amount is discounted from a new purchase with each bottle that is returned. Oberweis Dairy's milk is produced at farms in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.


On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​


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