15 September 1995

GIVE PINTA HEALTHY PUSH

National generic promotion of milk must be re-introduced to benefit all sides of the industry. Shelley Wright reports

DOORSTEP delivery of milk is a vital asset to dairy farmers and they should do all they can to maintain the service. That includes joining with dairy companies to fund the advertising and promotion of milk.

The call comes from Alex Robertson, senior marketing manager of Northern Foods – the countrys biggest "milkman".

Mr Robertson says that unless national generic promotion of milk is re-introduced then liquid sales will fall. But more worryingly, he adds, the public perception of milk as a healthy, natural product will also begin to erode.

Before the deregulation of the milk market last year, generic promotion was handled by the National Dairy Council. Its funding came jointly from producers, through the Milk Marketing Board, and dairy companies.

No central mechanism

But the demise of the MMB means there is no longer any available scheme to raise levies from producers for advertising, and no central mechanism to collect money. The Milk Develop-ment Council, funded by farmer levies, is prevented by statute from funding advertising.

The UK is unique in the EU in that more than half of its milk production goes to the fresh liquid market. This market still provides the benchmark for all milk pricing in this country, which is why farmers should ensure that it is protected, says Mr Robertson.

And while he hopes that there might eventually be a return to national advertising, he says his company was not prepared to wait.

Earlier this year Northerns liquid milk divisions, Dale Farm and Express Dairy, launched their own promotional initiative. It has exploded the myth that the decline in doorstep deliveries was due to price alone. Despite the doorstep price being as much as 20% more than that in supermarkets, a special doorstep canvassing campaign alone attracted an extra 5000 customers and boosted the companys doorstep sales by over 40,000 pints a week.

Northern found that tradition, freshness, convenience, and loyalty to the milkman, were more important to people than price.

Mr Robertson says other elements of the campaign aimed to bring a bit of fun to milk. "What we were saying was that milk was not old fashioned but was relevant to modern life, to children, to young mothers and so on."

Many of the promotions involved stamping letters or pictures on the underside of the foil milk bottle tops. Customers were then invited to collect the tops. In the "Fantasy Breakfast" promotion, two million prizes were instantly available with international holidays also on offer.

"The idea caught on to such an extent that adverts appeared in local newspapers asking for certain letters or offering swaps," says Mr Robertson.

Another reason why farmers should help maintain the doorstep industry is because the switch from the milkman to the supermarket is accompanied by a drop of up to 10% in the volume of milk sold, and consumed.

"If you have some milk left over at night, and you know that the milkman will deliver more next morning, then you tend to use it up. But that doesnt happen when you buy from a shop. You tend to go to the shop to buy more milk only when you need to," he says.

Television advertising

In a further development of the initiative, MD Foods, Waterford and ACC have now joined forces with Northern to introduce generic television milk advertising in northern England and the midlands.

While Mr Robertson sees this as a positive move, he says that without farmer support the level of advertising can never reach the levels of previous years. In the early 1990s the National Dairy Council spent over £15m/year.

"Hopefully farmers will see that together we can be much stronger. Id like to get back to the situation where all producers contributed, along with dairy companies, so that we can again see national generic advertising to the benefit of all sides of the industry," Mr Robertson says. &#42

Northern Foods marketing manager Alex Robertson seeks a return to national advertising. Meanwhile the companys liquid milk divisions, Dale Farm and Express Dairy, have launched their own promotional initiative that has boosted doorstep sales by over 40,000 pints a week.