The 2003 Dairy Event, 17 to 18 September, Stoneleigh Park Coventry (sponsored by HSBC Bank, ASDA, Barclays, Farmers Weekly, pharmaceutical companies and others). This is really a festival for whistling in the upkeep of courage rather than of cows. VEGA offers the cows’ views of the latest developments in the industry’s wicked milky ways.
The Grocer’s “Cowboy” supplement on 6 September reflected the unease. Sainsbury’s Jon Arnold, their dairy trading manager, refers to a “retailer initiative to get money back to the farmers. Critics say it won’t last, and I can’t say how long it will, but Sainsbury will have contributed £15m by October. We’re saying to farmers that dairy is not a commodity area or a loss leader: we have a duty to sell, and sell more”.
M & S’s category manager, Andrew Mackenzie, noting that “milk is going through an interesting time”, voices “concerns about the milk price rises to farmers and consumers’ reactions to them, as we are not seeing the growth in milk that we would expect”.
ASDA’s analysis reflects optimism in innovations. Harvey Bennett, their general manager, chilled foods, sees “a big opportunity in yoghurts and desserts. Dairy-free is also a category that is growing quite strongly”.
Dairy alternatives now engage attention in the Grocer’s latest Dairymen Supplement. It reports that the total soya-based dairy-free sector is now worth £68m. So Good’s chief executive, Allan Staples, estimates that soya is already 4 times the size “of the market in milk from sheep and goats”. So Good has a full page ad in the supplement.
Alpro’s commercial director, John Allway, “wants to push the chilled product because it tastes better and appeals to a more mainstream audience”. Consumers, as well as audiences, seem to prefer chilled to longlife products. VEGA knows of further developments in the alternative dairy-sector, stimulated for various reasons for diversification by supermarkets in the quest for own-brand versions. This is something of a reversal of the unfortunate trend, led by the likes of M & S, to butter everything up. On 13 September The Times, in a Body and Soul Food section, declares that “we once thought that milk was good for us, but now everyone is ditching the dairy”.
The Times article includes alternatives beyond soya, notably Plamil’s Whitesun, which is based on pea-protein. This is another pioneering initiative, utilizing a nitrogen-fixing – and therefore agronomically and environmentally-desirable – crop that can be grown within the EU, including the UK. Realisation of the foresight during WW2 of the late Dr. Norman Pirie FRS for the leaf protein project is engaging interest in more “dairy” contexts and at the moment persists on a very small scale in the UK.
But the dairy industry is mired in more problems on which consumers’ complaints grow louder in their demands for cruelty-free milk.
For information on the recent workshop on the welfare of dairy cows, click here