7 March 1997

Dairymans fury over doorstep price rise claim

By Shelley Wright

A DAIRY firms explanation to its customers that it was increasing its doorstep delivery charges, due to the price of raw milk, has infuriated a leading West Midlands farmer.

Philip Smith-Maxwell, who farms near Droitwich, Worcs, is vice-chairman of the Ford Milk Group, which supplies Dairy Crest. He said that producers everywhere were having their milk prices cut dramatically because of the prevailing market conditions.

He accepted that price cuts were necessary to allow the dairy processors to remain competitive. But Mr Smith-Maxwell was furious when Tewkesbury-based firm Cotteswold Dairy sent a leaflet to all its doorstep delivery customers, blaming raw milk prices for its own price rise.

Customer leaflet

The leaflet told customers: "As from Mon, 3 Mar, the price of 2 litres of milk will increase by 5p to £1.14. This is due to the price of raw milk."

Mr Smith-Maxwell told FW that he was a strong supporter of the doorstep delivery business. But, while he accepted that the firms overall costs may have increased, it was not only wrong but also insulting to farmers to put the blame on raw milk prices.

"Leaflets of this kind neither do justice to the dairy farmers nor consumers in the present economic climate," he insisted.

Apologised for upset

But Philip Workman, director of Cotteswold Dairy, told FW that there had been a mistake, and he apologised for any upset the leaflet had caused farmers.

When the firm had decided to increase the price of its two-litre bottles of milk, for reasons that had nothing to do with raw milk prices, the assistant manager was asked to write the customer leaflet.

And he had taken it upon himself to add the line about raw milk prices Mr Workman said.

Cotteswold Dairy buys most of its milk from Milk Marque. Prices to the trade from MM have fallen by over 2p/litre since October last year, mainly due to the continued strength of sterling. Other companies are also reducing their prices by similar amounts.

For more on milk price cuts see Business p23.