Are We Seeing The Return of the Milkman?

From 1860 to 1960, milk used to come from the dairy to your doorstep. The milkman was a familiar character in neighborhoods across the U.S. So ubiquitous was the milkman during that period in history that it became part of popular culture with the milkman being a central figure in milkman jokes, making it into pop songs like “No Milk Today” and even a Stephen King short story “Morning Deliveries (Milkman No. 1).” Yet by the 1960’s the milkman had all but disappeared. Refrigerators, supermarkets, suburban sprawl, and automobiles all but killed the milkman and home delivery.

Fast forward to 2016. Home Delivery is coming back in the US and with a vengeance covering everything from food to booze, therapists and even weed. Yes weed – the medical kind of course. According to CB Insights, some $8 billion was invested into “on-demand” or “concierge” startups in 2015, ready to deliver whatever your heart desires.


Ok, so maybe the milkman himself is not coming back. But he did leave a legacy. The “Milk Run” – a delivery model used when there’s a regular route that can be optimized as new deliveries are added; it’s direct, efficient and provides reliable sales to the dairy or whatever business is using it. Smart startups across the US like Maria’s Gourmet Kitchen in Houston are successfully using it to provide “Dinner as a Service” and changing how we go about making weeknight dinners.

The “Milk Run” model taken together with dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency – 100 mpg cars will be the standard by 2020 – and new and on the horizon technologies like drones, robots and driverless vehicles, will make home delivery a powerful competitive advantage for agile companies leveraging it. If the Internet was the coffin for many big box businesses littering your neighborhood and struggling to adapt, “milk run” startups may be the final nail in the coffin.

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