Promoting locally-produced milk can provide real benefits. Cedric Porter visits a farmer who has successfully led the way and helped double local milk sales in his nearby Tesco.
The 40 year old farms at New House Farm, Tytherington, Gloucestershire, with his 38-year-old brother Tom and semi-retired father Bill. The Cornock’s have been on the 56ha (140-acre) farm since the 1840s, and today the family runs a herd of 80 British Friesians, supplying farmer-owned Dairy Farmers of Britain.
“At the beginning of 2007 a letter was sent out to all Dairy Farmers of Britain members saying that Tesco was looking for producers to supply a Localchoice brand,” says Richard Cornock. “They were offering a premium and looking for small family farms across the country who could supply milk for sale in local stores.”
After 10 tough years in dairying, Mr Cornock thought the opportunity was too good to miss. “I set about the application process as though it was a competition. So, as well as stressing the good hygiene and quality of our milk, I also took photos of the conservation areas we have established on the farm and outlined the family history of the farm.”
His approach worked and he was chosen as one of five Gloucestershire suppliers and one of 150 across the country. He began supplying milk for Localchoice in May 2007. At first, only 10% of what he sold was used in the brand and attracted the premium. But that has since risen to 65%, fetching a price of 28.5p/litre, compared with a standard value of 24.7p/litre.
Spreading the word
But Mr Cornock was not content to just to supply the dairy with milk. He wanted to help make sure as many shoppers as possible knew about it and bought it.
“People knew Tesco was selling local milk because of a series of television advertisements. But I realised they didn’t know who was producing it and where they farmed.”
His first action was to get a sign made for a farm gate highlighting that he was a Localchoice supplier and that the milk could be bought in the local Tesco. Similar signs are now being supplied by Tesco to other Localchoice suppliers.
“More than 1700 cars pass the sign every day and I was able to have it made at cost-price in return for a farm walk for the sign-maker and his family.”
Mr Cornock then created his own flyers highlighting that the farm supplied milk for the Localchoice brand and where it could be bought. These were delivered to all local houses in Tytherington and to parts of Thornbury, the nearby town and home to a Tesco store. Local websites also contain details of the farm and milk, plus the farm has its own web page.
“We make sure that everyone we meet gets one of the leaflets,” says Mr Cornock. “We have adapted them so the other four Localchoice suppliers in Gloucestershire have their own versions.”
Mr Cornock also embarked on a sustained press campaign, initially starting with the local Thornbury Gazette. It covered the story with a picture of him in-store highlighting the benefits of local milk to schoolchildren. Dogged calls to editors resulted in further coverage in other regional press. He has also appeared on BBC Radio Bristol and local station Thornbury FM and this summer hosted a farm walk for staff from the local Thornbury store.
Mr Cornock’s actions have paid off, helping to increase sales locally. In the first three months of 2008, sales of Localchoice milk more than doubled, with the store outselling other larger ones in the southwest by as much as three times. A dedicated regional Dairy Farmers of Britain sales representative now promotes the Localchoice brand across the region’s Tesco stores.
His efforts have been recognised by both Dairy Farmers of Britain and Tesco. He has addressed other regional suppliers, demonstrating how they can increase sales of Localchoice milk and has become the national face of Localchoice milk. He is about to appear as a cardboard cut-out in 100 Tesco stores promoting the milk and will feature in a Tesco charity calendar in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. He is also about to take part in a south Gloucestershire Council promotion of local food.
Jo Wren is Tesco’s south-west marketing manager responsible for promoting local products. She describes Richard Cornock as a “real star” and an inspiration to other farmers who wish to promote their produce.
“Richard is very enthusiastic and always coming up with new ideas of how to promote the milk,” says Ms Wren. “We are very happy to use him as a face of Localchoice milk to our customers.”
The south west is split into five different Localchoice regions – Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and a joint area of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
Ms Wren says that Localchoice has tapped into a growing demand for local produce, something that is particularly strong in the south west.
“There are a large number of local products that appeal to both local people and visitors alike. There is still a lot growth in the local food sector.”
Bringing products to the market requires co-operation between farmers, processors and the supermarket, says Ms Wren and when farmers like Mr Cornock get involved, then the process is made easier.
The efforts of Mr Cornock are also recognised by Jamie Seymour, the Localchoice brand manager at Dairy farmers of Britain.
“It is a pleasure to work with Richard,” says Mr Seymour. “He is obviously very proud to be a part of the Localchoice scheme and has helped raise its awareness with both customers and other farmers.”
Mr Seymour says the scheme was aimed at attracting smaller producers with fewer than 100 cows throughout England and Wales. He believes that Dairy Farmers of Britain was chosen to supply the scheme because it could deliver quality milk and had a network of bottling plants, which could cut the distance that the milk needed to travel to store.
The number of regions supplying Localchoice milk in England and Wales has grown from the initial 14 to 17 and there are now 11 bottling plants involved. Most of these are operated by Dairy Farmers of Britain, but to get countrywide coverage, they work in partnership with other processors, such as Wiseman and Milk Link in Devon, Wiseman and Graham Dairies in Scotland, and also the Isle of Man Creamery. The milk is collected every other day by tankers that only pick up from Localchoice farms. It is then segregated in separate silos at the plant and processed separately.
Mr Seymour is encouraged by the growth of Localchoice milk, which is now well on the way to achieving its target of becoming a £100m brand. He is also encouraged that sales of the milk have held up in the face of very competitive pricing of retail milk and greater general economic uncertainty.
Back at New House Farm, Richard Cornock is thinking of new ways to promote the milk, pleased that the relationship with Tesco and Dairy Farmers of Britain has strengthened his part of the dairy chain.
“The scheme has given new hope for the future of the farm to the whole family and helped us understand the needs of other partners in the chain, and most importantly the needs of the customers,” he says.
Localchoice chain facts: New House Farm
- Family-run 56ha (140-acre) dairy farm
- Herd of 80 British Friesians
- Began supplying Localchoice milk in May 2007
- One of five Localchoice farms in Gloucestershire and 150 in the country
- Amount of milk used in the Localchoice scheme has increased from an initial 10% to 65%
- Richard Cornock’s marketing push helped double Localchoice milk sales in his local Tesco
- The farm’s Localchoice milk sign is seen by 1700 drivers a day
- Richard is about to appear as a cardboard cut-out in 100 Tesco stores
- See the Tytherington website.
- Tesco local milk brand
- Smaller farms with fewer than 100 cows are preferred suppliers
- The number of regions or counties in England and Wales supplying Localchoice has grown from 14 to 17. Others in Scotland and the Isle of Man
- Localchoice price is 28.5p/litre compared with 24.7p/litre for standard Dairy Farmers of Britain milk
- DFoB aims to make Localchoice into a £100m brand