10 July 1998

Turning round the

milk market: how promotion helps

The steady decline in liquid

milk consumption is

beginning to be turned

round. Generic advertising

will help, explains

Catherine Hughes

MILK consumption has been declining at about 1% a year in the UK for some time. But since the demise of the Milk Marketing Board in 1994 this relatively gentle decline has become more of a downward spiral.

According to the National Dairy Council, by the end of 1993 – the last year of milk advertising – the decline had increased to 1.3%. It rose to 1.5% in 1994 and reached 2.3% a year later.

"We cannot afford to let milk escape the public eye," says Peter Kirkpatrick, of Express Dairies, "because it will be replaced with something else pretty quickly, particularly with the amount of advertising going on with fizzy drinks. And if we do not watch it, people will forget what milk tastes like."

Which is why Express has stepped up its support of the milk round system over the years and invested heavily in the service. Aware that 25% more milk is drunk if the milkman delivers it, and that Britain is the only country still with milkmen, the company has no intention of letting the service disappear.

"We are totally committed to our milkmen," says Mr Kirkpatrick. "We aim to make the job as attractive as possible and canvass the streets to recruit new customers."

Even though all milkmen have been self-employed since they went down the franchise route 10 years ago, Express says it has turned the job into an attractive and competitive one. Milkmen have also increased the range of goods they can deliver to include heavy items like washing powder and mineral water. Milkmen can now provide itemised bills and be paid by credit card, too, which makes the service more efficient.

The hard work seems to be paying off because some areas in the north are now increasing their consumption. "Barnsley, for example, is probably the first town where the trend in consumption has reversed for years," says Nick Goss, Expresss marketing director.

The real facts

There is also the small matter of public education. A survey by the National Dairy Council last autumn found that 65% of people thought that milk contained more than 30% fat and 11% of people said they would drink more milk if they knew the real facts about what it contains.

It prompted Express to launch a £250,000 poster campaign in London this spring highlighting the benefits of drinking milk and concentrating on its nutritional strengths.

The companys milk packaging has also been altered, and the words "full fat" replaced with "full taste" and a secondary message "less than 4% fat" added as a reassurance .

Semi-skimmed and skimmed milks have been labelled as 98% fat free and fat-free respectively.

As well as being much lower in fat than many people think, milk has other health attributes in its favour. A recent report by Sheffield University showed that girls who drink an extra half-pint of milk a day throughout adolescence could protect themselves against brittle bone disease in later life. During an 18-month trial, 12-year-old girls who supplemented their diet with an extra half pint of milk a day were found to have significantly improved bone density, especially in the pelvis and legs.

The report estimates that a 1% increase in the peak bone density achieved during growth years equates to an 8% reduction in the risk of osteoporosis in later life. The NHS spends £750m a year on osteoporosis treatment.

As far as Express is concerned, with its 20% share of the 5.4bn litre UK milk market, its moves to bolster the roundsmen and put over the health angle have already helped reverse the falling sales in some areas. And it hopes other dairy companies will follow suit.

"Current annual UK milk sales mean we have a £750m brand at our disposal," says Mr Goss. "That is nearly twice the size of Coca-Cola. If we could really bring the clout that this size of brand gives to bear on promoting the huge natural, healthfood advantages of our product we certainly would not be looking at a declining market."

The further good news is that after five years in which the UK has been without a co-ordinated national promotion policy for milk, it now looks as though something could be about to happen, according to NDC marketing director Alan Ovens.

Based on TV

"Milk advertising could be back on TV as soon as next January if all goes to plan and the Milk Development Council gets the green light from the government to change its remit to start advertising milk," he says. "We have widespread support for the funding of a national campaign and according to an MDC survey 74% of farmers said they would be prepared to have their levies increased.

But Mr Ovens claims: "This may not have to happen, it could just be a reallocation of the current funds."

Farmers are presently levied 0.04p a litre for promotion. But if the industry is to raise £6m – split equally between farmers and processors – farmers levies will only have to increase by 0.024p.

"We now need to get everyone together and get the MDC and NFU to see ministers and put the case forward to change the MDCs current remit which prevents funds being spent on advertising," says Mr Ovens.

Right and below: 25% more milk is drunk if the milkman delivers it

People think there is much more fat in milk than there is.

Express Dairies milk advertising has helped to boost consumption.