Survey reveals what’s important to dairy consumers

Dairy consumers have different priorities when it comes to buying milk and grazing cows is not a preference for many, a survey has revealed.

The survey of 2,054 consumers was carried out by Nottingham Vet School PhD student Amy Jackson as part of her study into the consumer perceptions of year-round-housed dairy cows.

As part of the AHDB-funded study she asked respondents to rank 17 attributes concerning milk production and dairy cow management in order of most to least important when they are considering milk.

Amy Jackson at the British Cattle Breeders Conference

Amy Jackson at the British Cattle Breeders Conference

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Revealing the preliminary findings at the British Cattle Breeders Conference this week (21-23 January) she said the three attributes that came out on top in no order included:

  • Grazing most of the year
  • Health and welfare
  • Cow comfort

However, when respondents were broken down into different segments it became apparent there was no single, clear preference.

  • 18% wanted healthy, comfortable cows with good welfare (these tended to be highly educated)
  • 16% just wanted cows to graze and it was this demographic that rated its knowledge of dairy farming highest of all others.
  • 15% wanted tasty milk and a fair price to farmers but weren’t worried about cow choice because they didn’t think cows are sentient.
  • 19% wanted to buy local milk and ensure farmers received a fair price for their milk. This group was the most rural with the greatest farming knowledge.
  • 15% wanted cows to have comfort, choice and stay with calves for longer. Unsurprisingly, it contained the highest proportion of vegans and vegetarians. They had a strong emotional attachment to cows.
  • 17% were more urban and from higher-earning households and expressed few preferences for their milk. This group knew the least by far, but thought they knew a lot and answered questions inconsistently.

Commenting on the findings, Ms Jackson said: “We say we need to educate [consumers] but we need to listen actually and understand what they want.

“When you start looking at the underlying groups, all of them have very different priorities and only one group lists grazing as the most important thing.

“We’ve heard so much recently about greenhouse gas emissions, yet carbon footprint didn’t come up as a big tick.”

She said the industry needs to look at the bigger picture when it comes to understanding consumer preferences and added it was clear that cow comfort and welfare are “big wins” that can be capitalised on.

She will be hoping to publish this piece of work later this year and as part of the next steps to her PhD Ms Jackson will be conducting interviews with focus groups to try and understand what is driving these choices.

Other key findings

  • Carbon footprint was not important
  • Neither were brushes and toys
  • Non-omnivores (vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, non-dairy and pescatarians) prioritised cow comfort and keeping calves with cows
  • They didn’t rank fair price, the taste of milk and if it was produced locally highly
  • Omnivores had preference for cow welfare, comfort and grazing
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