July 27, 2020

Reducing Your Coffee Shop’s Milk Wastage


Ingredient waste can be costly for your coffee shop. While it rarely occurs in large quantities, the cost of an errant splash or spill of ground coffee, sugar, or milk can add up – and cut into your profits over time.

As milk is a core ingredient in beverages like lattes and cappuccinos, monitoring and actively preventing its wastage will help you to save money in the long term. 

Here’s why preventing milk wastage is so important, how to determine if you’re currently wasting it, and how to cut back on this waste.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Reducir el Desperdicio de Leche en tu Tienda de Café

The Hidden Costs Of Milk Wastage

The obvious reason behind wanting to reduce waste is to cut costs, allowing you to spend that money more wisely elsewhere. However, beyond the financial cost, waste also impacts the environment and affects how customers see your business.

Food wastage is not news, but the Covid-19 pandemic has drawn attention to just how much food is wasted every day. With so many ports closed under lockdown, the sheer amount of unsold, perishable food being wasted is staggering. The Dairy Farmers of America, the USA’s largest dairy cooperative, believed that farmers were dumping 3.7 million gallons of milk a day at the height of the pandemic in early April. 

Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of how their shopping habits affect the environment. A recent Capgemini Research Institute report concerning sustainability and consumer preferences found that “79% of consumers were changing purchase preference based on the social or environmental impact of their purchases”. 

This means that addressing your coffee shop’s milk wastage and planning ahead to prevent it could help to keep existing customers loyal and reach others. It could even increase your profits in the long term – the same report reveals that the majority of businesses promoting sustainability enjoy increased customer loyalty and brand revenue. 

You may also like Eco-Friendly: 6 Ways to Minimize Waste in Coffee Shops

How Much Milk Do You Waste? 

Milk wastage occurs for a number of different reasons, and the exact reasons and volume will vary from shop to shop. Celia Wong is a coffee consultant based in Hong Kong and China, and she explains that wastage “really depends on how many milk-related items and cup sizes are offered on your menu, as this means more milk will be used”.

The University of Edinburgh estimates that one in six pints of milk produced is thrown away or lost, and the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security estimates that 16% of all dairy products are lost or discarded globally each year. It also shows that in high-income countries such as the UK, retailers, retailers, distributors, and consumers are responsible for most of this waste.

Research shows that accidental spills or spoilage due to improper storage aren’t actually responsible for most waste. Two of the biggest contributing factors are overserving the amount of milk required for a drink, or not making a milky drink to the customer’s preference, which requires it to be completely remade. 

The season or weather might also influence how much is wasted. Andrew Benavides owns Cafeina Café, in San Diego, USA. He says that in his experience, more milk wastage occurs with hot drinks. 

“In my experience, with iced drinks you do tend to use less milk because of the ice in the drinks. When it comes to hot drinks, however, it is pretty easy to waste milk when you add too much milk to steam.”

Determining how much milk your shop wastes will require you to manage your baristas and their tools more closely. Andrew doesn’t suggest using one single metric, such as how much milk you’re ordering per week. While this might indicate how much more is being used, “the [amount] you purchase for the week can’t determine if you’re wasting more milk or if the shop is just more busy”.

Scott Rao recommends a simple way to give you and your staff indication of your wastage on an average day: give staff members an empty bucket and instruct them to toss any unused milk into the jug throughout the day. In Scott’s case, he saw his café was wasting US $15 worth of milk a day – almost US $5,000 a year.

Reducing Your Milk Wastage 

Once you know how much milk you’re wasting, here’s what you can do to reduce it.

Use The Right Equipment

When preparing espresso, the amount of ground coffee required for a single espresso is carefully measured and dosed. With more precise measuring equipment, you can measure how much milk you use for each drink in the same way. Even if you don’t buy new equipment, you can instead just make sure you follow the measurement marks outlined on a jug or pitcher. 

Celia recommends that coffee shops consider buying auto dosing devices if possible. These allow baristas to dispense the exact volume of milk they need at a preset temperature and milk foam ratio. She also advises using a milk dispenser, but notes that it will need to connect directly to your refrigerator.

Communicate With Your Customers 

Less experienced customers often don’t know exactly what they want from a drink, and might not know just how much milk a latte or a flat white contains. If they find that it isn’t to their taste, they may want to order again, and waste all the milk in the discarded beverage. If a customer is confused, clearly communicating the ingredients of each drink will help them to order the right one.

Many modern consumers also prefer non-dairy alternatives like nut and soy milk. It’s important to consider how alternative milk can impact a coffee’s taste and preparation. For example, while almond and soy milk can produce attractive latte art, many feel they have an aftertaste. On the other hand, cashew and hemp milk have a neutral taste but don’t foam very well. If a customer asks what the difference is between two types of non-dairy milk, make sure you offer them a clear explanation.

Train Your Team Well

Taking the time to ensure that every staff member is well trained before they start serving customers will prevent unnecessary wastage of all kinds. 

For example, make sure that baristas take the time to measure milk carefully before they heat it. Milk can’t be repeatedly reheated, as this affects its texture and can prove to be hazardous – dairy milk contains bacteria that thrive between 5 and 60°C. This means that any extra milk heated in a jug will have to be thrown away.

Furthermore, make sure that baristas practise micro texturing and milk steaming with water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid, rather than milk. 

Cutting down on milk waste is something that all coffee shops should aim to do. Not only will it communicate your commitment to sustainability and save you money, it will also help you run your business more efficiently than ever. 

Enjoyed this? Then Read Managing Customer Expectations in Your Coffee Shop?

Photo credits: Van Marty, Nicole Motteux, Neil Soque

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