THE FIRST step to processing your own milk is not choosing which product to make, but finding out who your customer is, what he wants and when  he wants it.

Marketing produce is all about the customer and his needs, which means consumer research is vital, says independent marketing consultant John Taylerson.

“Find out what they like and are likely to like. Then ask yourself whether you can meet their needs. Discerning consumers select their food on criteria other than price.

“They like to know the name of the farm, the type of product and whether that sounds like where they want their milk to come from,” he says.

Mr Taylerson suggests producers conduct market research to establish the number of consumers in the area who would want to buy their product, how much they will pay for it and the cost of getting it to them.

“There is no point in making a fabulous little cheese that is expensive, if people only buy it at Christmas for the cheese board.”

The short shelf life of dairy produce is an important factor. A cheese factory can be set up from scratch for about £250,000, processing up to 800,000 litres of milk a year.

But 400,000 litres of milk generates 45t of cheese, which must all be bought by consumers.

“Some people buy 2-3 types of cheese, others only one. Remember, the average UK consumer eats just 10kg of cheese a year compared with the European average of 18kg.”

Buyers should then be categorised. “Are they the type of people to buy only one sort of cheese but often? Do they like French-style cheeses or are they more concerned with filling five children’s lunchboxes every day?”

Once the background research is completed, Mr Taylerson recommends producers attend a pasteurising and heat treatment course.

It is also vital to contact the local Environmental Health Officer to register for a HACCP course, otherwise produce cannot be sold.