Slovenian Farmers Take Back Dairy Distribution Through Vending Machines

Mlekomat Milk Vending Machine. Photo: Riley A Arthur
Mlekomat Milk Vending Machine. Photo: Riley A Arthur

Slovenians have some creative vending machines, like the one that dispenses tooth brushes or another that spits out personalized pizzas, but by far the most successful are the mlekomats!

As the story goes, a few years ago, supermarkets and chains used their monopoly to drive the price of milk so low that farmers couldn’t make a profit. Rather than submit to being bullied by the larger corporations, the farmers banded together and created their own solution. They pulled their resources and a created a unique way to sell their product. Using technology invented in Switzerland, dairy vending machines soon popped up all over Ljubljana.

There are two vending machines varieties they filland maintain. The most popular is the “Mlekomat” machine where for €1 a thirsty customer can purchase a glass or plastic liter bottle and fill it up by the ounce, or bring their own bottle to fill. You can control the milk being poured into the bottle, buying as much or as little as you want. If you just want a sip, this is possible.

Once the milk is done dispensing, a plexi glass shield encompasses the nozzle, a self-cleansing splash of water cleans the area and a UV light disinfects. The milk is fresh, raw and unpasteurized. Other varieties of machine sell local farm products like apple cider, cheese, and local sausages- all local, fresh and organic.  The farmer who owns and maintains each machine can monitor inventory through an app on his phone, explaining why these popular machines are well stocked.

The convenience of the vending machines is key. While most stores close their doors Sundays, one can always visit the vending machines. Tourists and visitors seem fascinated by these machines, and its common to see an excited tourist pose for a photo op, milk bottle in hand. For someone who has only ever seen milk sold in stores in plastic or wax-covered cardboard cartons, the old world charm of glass bottles combined with the new technology of a vending machine is irresistible!

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National Geographic grantee Riley Arthur is documenting the Erased of Slovenia- 200,000 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically granted citizenship after the country split from Yugoslavia in 1991.  A decade later, the community is still fighting for documentation. These stories are about the Erased and the places they live. 


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Meet the Author
Photographer, islander, environmentalist, gelato eater.