Arla dairy Aylesbury

British dairy products could soon be promoted far more vigorously to consumers, as levy body AHDB Dairy is set for a major shift in its strategy.

The AHDB board will discuss funding options for a promotional push alongside industry representatives such as Dairy UK at its meeting on 16 March, as part of a “completely fresh approach”, said strategy director Amanda Ball.

The body, which is currently focused largely on research, has faced mounting calls to invest in the promotion of dairy products over the past 12 months to support the crisis-hit sector.

NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison warned last year that farmers needed less help in “how to run our business” and more assistance in developing demand for British dairy products at home and abroad, while the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers hit out at AHDB Dairy’s work to promote the dairy sector last month, and called for investment in “more targeted and effective generic milk advertising”.

Ball said AHDB Dairy had received a “number of submissions” calling for more market development activity when it consulted on its business plan for 2016-2019 last autumn.

She added the landscape within the sector had changed significantly from 2008, when the organisation decided to shift away from promoting dairy products to pursuing a strategy focusing on improving farm efficiencies, knowledge exchange and R&D on farmgate issues such as mastitis.

“It’s important farmers don’t feel this could be a silver bullet for the issues facing the sector. We can’t buck the market,” Ball warned. “But we can try to underpin the integrity of our products.”

Ball also noted the success of promotional campaigns run by other AHDB departments for products such as pulled pork, with AHDB Pork in particular doing well “in getting the whole supply chain involved and integrated” in the promotional campaign.

Plans for a dairy campaign are understood to be at an early stage, and would be subject to an agreement at board level on how it could be funded.

AHDB Dairy would be able to apply for EU funding at the start of 2017, which could potentially boost its own promotional budgets significantly. However, any application process would likely be competitive “and we would need a very robust plan”, Ball said.

“In the meantime, we will be proposing to the board that we undertake interim promotional activity to supplement our existing public-facing work through the website,” she added.