17 April 1997

Quality is way to better value

Adding value was the main

theme at a recent dairy

conference. Tim Relf reports

CONSUMPTION of dairy products will not rise much in volume terms – so expand the market by adding value.

Steve Rice of RTS Associates, speaking at a recent Centre for Agricultural Strategy conference at Reading University, predicted a 6% growth in the EU markets value between now and 2002, despite an expected volume growth of just 1.7%.

"We wont be eating more dairy products – but better ones," he said, highlighting convenient, healthy, organic, exotic and indulgent items.

In the UK, each person typically consumed more than 113kg of liquid milk, plus 29.5kg of other dairy products. This compared with an EU average of 78kg and 48kg, partly reflecting the higher consumption on the Continent of cheese – a product which offered big added-value opportunities.

To achieve the expansion, farmers, processors and retailers needed to work together more closely. "The farmer cannot afford to be the weak link in the chain. If your products got an attribute, flaunt it," said Mr Rice, pointing to high protein milk drinks.

"Limited but lucrative," is how Malcolm Crabtree, managing director of the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, described the opportunities for speciality milk.

He believed the trend of declining cow numbers, spread between fewer, larger and more productive herds, would continue, he believed.

By 2000, the UKs could have 2.1m dairy cows, kept by 30,000 producers, compared with more than 3.2m cows and nearly 101,000 producers 30 years earlier.

But welfare and husbandry considerations would stop the average number of cows managed by a herdsperson topping 100, with most remaining around the 80 mark, Mr Crabtree reckoned. "Stockmanship can sometimes seem an old-fashioned term – but it shouldnt."