Opinion: The dairy protesters should be congratulated

Farmer protesting against poor milk prices

© Adrian Sherratt/Rex Shutterstock

The main source of stress in our summer is typically the making of the hay and silage for the winter. 

This centres firstly on whether there is enough grass and then on whether the contractor will turn up in the three-day window of dry weather in between the monsoons.  

Yet, this year the fodder is made and apart from a few minor irritations – chiefly, an explosion in the population of flies and ticks – our summer has been fairly calm.

See also: Save us from tofu and chickpea curry

This only ever happens before a big pile of bad news.

Elizabeth Elder and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range in Northumberland.

Sure enough, there is every sign that we are about to be hammered by poor lamb prices in the autumn marketing season. 

I understand that there are good reasons why lamb prices are down – oversupply/weak euro/Russia and so on.

I don’t understand why this does not seem to have filtered through to the shops. 

At least if the producers aren’t being paid much, the consumer should benefit, in order to stimulate the demand for lamb. 

I seem to be remember the same argument being made a couple of years ago.

There was a bit of an NFU campaign and some decent publicity, but nothing much changed.  

I did notice falling milk and butter prices in my local supermarket – first on a special offer basis and then permanently.

Strong campaign

So it wasn’t a surprise to hear about the troubles of some dairy farmers.

The dairy protesters should be congratulated on their campaign so far.

To date, they have attracted widespread and broadly sympathetic publicity.

They have come over as reasonable people and have avoided being the type of Englishman that every other Englishman despises as soon as he opens his mouth.

Importantly, the protests have not inconvenienced or alienated the public.

What they will ultimately achieve remains to be seen.

“They have come over as reasonable people and have avoided being the type of Englishman that every other Englishman despises as soon as he opens his mouth” – Elizabeth Elder

At the cheapo end of the supermarket range, customers are primarily shopping on the basis of price, so these chains probably just regard the protests as free publicity for how ruthlessly cheap they are. 

Morrisons are obviously slightly more concerned about their image and have launched a brand of milk with a premium to be paid direct to farmers. It will be very interesting to see how this goes.

Supermarkets are experts in selling branded, standard own-label and value versions of the same product side by side.

Value v expense

It seems that the key to selling the slightly more expensive versions is packaging. 

Some of the value ranges are packaged in a deliberately off-putting way – which make you feel that the contents are inferior and that only a desperate weirdo cheapskate (or a student) would buy it. 

In addition, the value packaging appears designed to be identifiable from miles away and to be particularly obvious to other people queuing near you at the checkout, who may be casually passing judgement on the contents of your trolley and hence you.

This tends to incentivise customers towards selecting the higher priced alternative.

I doubt that anyone is planning to redesign the mainstream milk offering using these value packaging techniques.

This means the feelgood, virtue-added packaging of the premium milk is going to have to be rather special to make people want to choose to pay more for exactly the same product over a sustained period. We’ll see.

In other news, we hear that the Labour Party may be about to choose as its new leader a man who wants to renationalise the railways and the power companies and reopen the coal mines.

Nationalising the supermarkets must surely also be on the list. Would that help?

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