Let’s Appreciate Dairy
Let’s Appreciate Dairy
I can barely keep up with the changes in the British dairy industry in 2020. COVID19 has certainly altered my view of the dairy world. We talk so much about milk in the supermarkets but very rarely do we discuss the contribution of coffee shops with their milky coffees, bakeries with their cream cakes and fast food joints with their extra cheese. The industry has mourned the temporary closing of Costa, McDonald’s, Greggs and others. Burger King has reopened just down the road from my farm and I have become almost obsessed with getting reports from delivery drivers passing through, and from my staff, about how big the queue is – and believe me, the queue is BIG. My farm is quite an urban farm, less than 4 miles as the crow flies from the centre of Cardiff, so I’m surrounded by these food outlets and honestly, I have never given them this much thought, and respect.
There’s also been a lot of behaviour change in the supermarkets. For a start, quite a bit of bottled milk business has shifted back to doorstep delivery and convenience stores. Consumers are returning to bigger weekly or monthly shops, in an effort to limit contact with others, and so they have looked to other means to get fresh milk to their homes. This is really good news in lots of ways, but particularly it shows that whilst market research by AHDB dairy has found people do not really think about the dairy they consume it is clearly still a significant part of their daily lives – so much so they are making separate orders or trips to acquire it!
Butter & Cream
I’ve talked about bottled milk but what about our other dairy products. Butter and cream have almost seen a renaissance with a return to more home cooking, particularly baking. It’s been fantastic to see people sharing their recent bakes on social media.
Ice cream could do with a boost right now. Quite often this is one we eat out as a treat and the weather couldn’t be better for it. A young farmer in my patch has invested in an ice cream business, called fablas. She’s had it now for about 3 years and put her heart and soul into it. It has been heart-wrenching to see the hit she, and others, have taken from the temporary closure of hospitality. These businesses may seem small but they are so vital to us, we need them to get back on their feet.
Yoghurt & Cheese
That brings me on to yoghurt and cheese. As part of quick healthy snacks in the home, these products are a winner, particularly cheese. Yoghurt seems to have struggled more which is very sad. Cheddar in particular is flying off the shelves as sandwiches at lunchtime get a revival. The cheese story that nearly passed me by unnoticed is the artisan cheese – and we can talk about goat, sheep and buffalo cheese as well here. Their markets have more or less vanished. Again these are items that were treated as luxuries and treats, and again many are relatively small businesses. But the variety that is sold, the stories, history, innovation and passion must make a come back because they are such a huge part of our British dairy identity.
My final thought, however, goes to food boxes. There are sadly many families struggling to make ends meet and reliant on food boxes. And sadly there may be more as we continue through this crisis. What better way to get adequate protein and vital micronutrients into people’s diets through dairy products. But the challenge is refrigeration, and it’s a real issue. Despite some amazing efforts by the likes of FareShare, and other charities, putting fresh milk into food boxes is complicated, UHT is the easier option. We have limited UHT production in this country. The U.K. is abnormally large consumers of fresh milk, unlike our neighbours on the continent who choose UHT. This has resulted in numerous food boxes in Britain being filled on occasion with perhaps no milk at all, or sometimes (not always) imported UHT milk. The most important thing is these vulnerable families get a supply of milk. But my challenge to myself, and the industry now is how do we make it British for them.
Dairy has come through huge turbulence, but it’s brought home to me the strengths we have, the amazing product innovation and the importance of every outlet no matter how small they may seem. We need to take the pride we feel in all these products and use it now to promote everything that we are a part of.