Fresh coffee milk by the half-gallon!
A.B. Munroe is the only dairy left in the state that still delivers. It's also the oldest business still operating in East Providence, having been established by Alfred B. Munroe in 1881 on the same property it occupies today. Alfred ran the place until his death in 1934, at which time his wife, Myra, took the reins for a few years. In 1936 Myra sold Munroe to dairy equipment salesman Robert E. Armstrong, and the Armstrong family has been managing the operation ever since.
Today (as of 2019), the company has 11,000 customers in thirty-eight Rhode Island cities and towns (Block Island is the only municipality not included on the delivery routes), and in more than thirty Massachusetts locations. All that milk—an average of 20,000 gallons a week—is produced by just 500 cows living on six small family farms in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Current owner Rob Armstrong Jr., thinking it was time to retire, and having no family interested in taking over, almost sold the business in 2018. He even got as far as beginning to train a pair of prospective owners, but the work proved more than they had bargained for, and the sale was called off. But Armstrong found a renewed enthusiasm and decided to redouble his efforts. Part of those efforts was the construction of a commercial kitchen, bakery, and retail store near the Brow Street plant. Munroe's Sacred Cow Holy Granola (introduced around 2017) is alread gaining traction, and they plan to begin producing their own ice cream, fresh-churned butter, and bakery products.
Munroe's delivery trucks are painted an iconic bovine black and white. Fun, right? But it wasn't always an obvious design choice. Lindsay Armstrong, daughter of Rob, related this anecdote in a 2013 article in The Bay: "In the early '80s my father and mother made a leap of faith in painting the milk trucks like cows from the standard green and white they were painted at the time. They did not tell either my grandfather or my great-grandfather and both were away at the time. The initial reaction from both was not one of acceptance, and I'm sure there were some choice words used, but as you can see it was a successful decision and most anyone in our area recognizes the cow truck."
(As of this revision (May 2019), the store is built, but not yet open).
Monroe has always been a delivery operation, and unlike many other dairies that gave up the processing and delivery side of things in favor of opening creameries or convenience stores, Munroe has no retail locations. But if you come by Brow street at the right time, and ask nicely, they'll sell you a fresh half-gallon of coffee milk. How fresh? In most cases Munroe's milk has been outside the cow for less than forty-eight hours before making its way to you in glass bottles. Insurance prevents Munroe from giving tours of their processing and bottling plant, but you can see most of the operation from behind large glass windows at their office. You can also see a small display of vintage company memorabillia there.
- Munroe's cows are free-range, and their diet of grass, hay, and homegrown feed is healthier and more varied than the silage provided at many large commercial dairies.
- Munroe's cows are artificial growth hormone and antibiotic-free.
- Munroe's cows sleep on waterbeds. Seriously. Three reasons: 1) It relieves pressure on the cows' knees and hocks, meaning healthier and more relaxed cows, 2) Waterbeds actually require less maintenance than a dirt floor that a cow may churn up in her attempt to get comfortable, and 3) Happy cows produce better quality milk.
- The glass bottles don't only keep the milk fresh and BPA-free, they're also washed and reused about forty times each, so they're good for the environment. It's estimated that the practice keeps around eighty-eight million plastic jugs and cardboard cartons out of the landfill.
- The milk comes in several flavors—chocolate, of course, as well as Rhode Islanders' favorite, coffee; but also, for limited times, flavors like strawberry, banana, orange creamsicle, chocolate-mint, or cookies and cream. Ten percent of the proceeds from these limited edition flavors are donated to local charities. And during the holidays, there's eggnog!
- In addition to milk, Munroe delivers over 300 other products like bread and bagels, eggs, cheese, yogurt, frozen pizza, pastries and cookies, deli meats, fruit juices, meat and poultry, seafood, coffee, fresh and frozen vegetables, and ice cream. The majority of these items are sourced from local companies.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm
- Best Milk Delivery, Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island, 1995.
- Best Milk Delivery, Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island, 2003.