Long Clawson Dairy, a farmer-owned dairy co-op, has redefined what quality means to the business and to the consumer in the light of the recession.

The business, which supplies Stilton and other award winning cheeses to big retailers and exporters, had been operating at the premium or standard end of the market.

But chief executive Martin Taylor told Oxford delegates that the ethos and culture of the company is moving away from just being the “best of the best” to actively develop a value range so it has a balanced range of products to beat the recession.

“Our analysis shows that during a period of lower consumer spending there tends to be a down trade from standard products to value products. We have observed consumers down trading during the week and treating themselves at the weekend,” he said.

New value products are being engineered to reduce the cost of ingredients and manufacture, but achieve a price and value equation that meets consumer need. The co-op has left no stone unturned and has looked at cutting costs in the supply chain, in raw materials, packaging and transport.

Some 50 million litres of milk are processed from 45 farms at Long Clawson’s dairy near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Mr Taylor believes that its ability to adapt to different circumstances has been crucial to the co-operative’s survival and growth.

In line with the rest of the industry, Long Clawson has struggled to recruit people with the right skills to move forward. Mr Martin said the dairy set up its own apprenticeship schemes as a practical solution to the lack of qualified engineers and cheese-makers. He remains concerned about the number of farmers retiring from dairying.