With a backdrop of higher milk prices, now is the time for the dairy industry to invest in thinking creatively about adding value to milk, according to the Milk Development Council.

Recognising consumers, identifying their needs and meeting them as efficiently as possible is the way to add appeal and value to products, says Jeff Nicholas, MDC’s marketing manager.

“In the past the dairy industry has focused on what it can manufacture rather than starting with the consumer and realising they have needs to fulfil.

Opportunities

“Consumer purchases are driven by health, convenience and the desire to try something new.

“The opportunity now is for the industry to base what it does on these needs in an effective way.”

Mr Nicholas says there are several ways to make changes to dairy products to increase their value.

Target consumers

“At the farm level, there’s on-farm processing, producing something new, different or better than what is already available.

“Whether cheese, ice cream or milk, it’s important to have a target consumer in mind.”

“The MDC has done lots of research into provenance – highlighting the region it came from and whether it’s organic is the way to get consumers to treat produce more seriously.

Scientific research

“It’s what supermarkets have done by adding value to their own label products and creating premium lines, and similar opportunities exist for the dairy industry.”

There are also opportunities for innovation through processing methods or using scientific evidence, such as MDC research which found skimmed milk was more effective than isotonic sports drinks at improving recovery after exercise, to promote new uses for dairy produce.

“In that situation you need to seize the opportunity and look at ways of making milk suitable to drink in a sports environment, such as different packing and vending options,” Mr Nicholas says.

Consumer groups

The MDC is conducting further research to identify consumer groups with specific needs for the industry to target.

“We are looking at children’s nutrition, and bone strength, as well as specific consumer groups such as schools and older women with osteoporosis.”

At farm level the MDC is also working with farmers, farmer groups, supply chains and processors to help them make the most of their produce.

‘Critical point’

“We have some consumer-driven products available but there’s still a lot more to do.

“The dairy sector is worth £1bn in the UK, and there are plenty of opportunities for that to expand and for producers to capture that growth.”

Ken Boynes, MDC chief executive, says the dairy industry is at a “critical point” in terms of investing in innovation.

‘Look to the future’

“Profitability is rising and producers need to be looking to use that increase to innovate and move forward. This is a perfect opportunity to look to the future.”

“However, while innovation is important, you should also look at relationships across the supply chain and your competitiveness. It’s a combination of things that will ensure success.”

“If you’re going to produce your own product, think where you are going to sell it, who to and how strong your market will be.

“You don’t necessarily have to do it alone – you can work with supplier groups and processors to produce an innovative product.

“The key is proper research to identify markets, and there’s plenty available.

“At the Dairy Event, dairy farmers will be able to find out what research and training is available and how they can move their ideas and products forward. There’s plenty of opportunity out there.”