The UK’s leading coffee chains have defended the price they pay for milk after being criticised for not taking their responsibilities to British dairy farmers seriously enough.

The UK’s coffee shops use between 130 million and 150 million litres of liquid milk a year between them [DairyCo].

This is less than 2% of the total volume of the UK liquid milk market, but farmers claim the amounts are significant enough to warrant farmers getting a fair deal. The amount of milk coffee shops used was increasing as coffee drinkers moved towards milk-based drinks, added DairyCo.

Starbucks, the UK’s biggest coffee chain, said it was paying farmers 2ppl more than it was 12 months ago, adding that the amount of milk it bought was not great enough for it to set up its own dedicated producer pools. “By comparison, our volumes are not anywhere close to the amount supermarkets purchase,” a spokeswoman added.

However, Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee said it had been working with a dedicated group of farmers for “a substantial period of time”, and insisted it paid a fair price for milk.

Meanwhile, Pret A Manger told The Grocer it had been buying most of its milk from three dairy farmers for more than 10 years. “The farmers tell us they are more than happy with the prices we pay,” said CEO Clive Schlee.

And Eat claimed it paid a premium for its milk because it only bought organic. “Over the past 18 months, we have increased the price we pay for our milk on three separate occasions and by 10% in total,” the company said, adding that two-thirds of that increase had gone directly to the farmers.

The NFU said setting up dedicated pools was only one way of ensuring farmers got a fair price. “When any business goes to tender for their milk, there’s nothing to stop them putting into the tender document a requirement to demonstrate that they are paying a fair price,” said the NFU’s head of food chain, Lee Woodger.