23 April 1999



The carrot of a milk advertising campaign has been dangled

in front of dairy producers for more than six months. Now

though, its dangling by a thread. By Vicky Houchin

IT was a bitter blow. Against all expectations, farm minister Nick Brown has refused to force dairy producers to fund a national milk advertising campaign. In a letter to the NFU, Mr Brown encouraged the union to instead consider a voluntary collection system to raise money to fund an advertising campaign.

Terrig Morgan, deputy chairman of the NFUs milk committee, describes Mr Browns letter last month as a complete shock. The NFU had expected to be given the go-ahead to press for a statutory levy. Now everything is hanging in the balance.

If a milk advertising campaign is to have any impact at all, he believes one single concerted effort is needed.

Meanwhile, milk consumption continues to fall and further price cuts to farmers are looming. And with potential advertising indefinitely delayed, some producers are making alternative plans of their own.

West Sussex dairy farmer Anthony Adorian decided to do something after attending endless farmer-meetings and seeing the debate go round in circles. He has set up his own fund and is asking farmers to contribute at least £100 each to his "sell milk" campaign.

Mr Adorian, who sees his scheme as a way for sceptical farmers to see that advertising milk could work, hopes to raise £1.5m by June. If he fails, he has pledged to return all the money to his contributors and donate any interest to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

But if successful, Mr Adorian then intends to approach the dairy industry who he hopes will match his sum. "Theyll have to because if the farmers raise the money theyll be shamed into matching it," he believes.

Different approach

Other producers claim a different approach would be more appropriate. Gloucestershire dairy producer Ben Pullen believes the Milk Development Council (MDC) concentrates on research at the expense of effective milk promotion. He wants the MDC completely restructured and turned into an advertising agency so it can better promote milk.

"They have between £5-£6m a year and nothing they do is beneficial to us," claims Mr Pullen, who has watched milk prices fall over the past five years. He admits the MDC wont be turned into an advertising agency overnight. But he claims a lot of support from farmers and is already planning to take up the idea directly with Mr Brown.

There is, however, a slight problem. The plan would involve redrafting the very legislation which Mr Brown has already refused to change. Such a dilemma has led Taunton farmer Marshall Taylor to conclude that turning the MDC into an advertising agency is the wrong approach.

"This idea is panic-thinking by producers," he says. "If this is the way they go about it then their businesses are lost already."

The idea of redirecting funds from research and development into advertising is "idiotic", he adds. The dairy industry must move ahead of continental suppliers by developing new branded products and improved technologies.

Despite what seems to be a total lack of progress, money appears to be available in case an advertising campaign is given the go-ahead.

Any forthcoming campaign would build on an existing advertising campaign currently being co-ordinated by the National Dairy Council (NDC). The NDC won more than £1m last year from the European Commission for the purpose of advertising milk.

It is now running a six-month campaign in womens and childrens magazines aimed at reaching 80% of housewives more than five times.

One campaign

The NDC hopes to secure a further £1.5m next year which could be pooled into one campaign with the rest of the dairy industry.

But while the farmers fight it out, financial support among retailers appears to be dwindling. Having benefited from its own advertising campaign recently, Marks & Spencer was keen to work with the industry on a generic campaign.

Since last autumn though, M&S has lost any increase in milk sales because other retailers have reduced their prices.

"Were not making our margins and I struggle to understand how they cover their costs," says M&S merchandiser Yves Fourcade about the big supermarkets. Despite his current concerns, Mr Fourcade is still keen to push milk. But unlike last year when M&S paid for its own campaign, the money must now come from farmers.

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