Morrisons Milk for Farmers

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks for the dairy sector: we’ve seen protests, more protests, threats of legal action, even more protests, and the frankly bizarre sight of cows roaming around supermarkets.

Yesterday we had a big powwow of farmers’ unions in London over collapsing farmgate and retail prices, and we saw another one today between the NFU, Farmers for Action and their current bête noire – Morrisons.

Farmers are angry at falling farmgate prices for their milk. They are also angry at the low retail price of milk, which – as The Grocer reported this week – is now 6 pence per litre cheaper than bottled water.

This argument, of course, has been running for months, with the standard response from the retail sector being, ‘we’re not passing any cut in retail price for milk on to our suppliers – we are funding this ourselves’. Or words to that effect.

Morrisons has borne the brunt of these protests recently, with ‘milk trolley challenges’ – where farmers have cleared milk aisles and then given away “devalued” milk for free to shoppers – and a couple of protests last week at its distribution centres heightening the increasing sense of hostility towards the supermarket.

In this context then, Morrisons’ move today to introduce a new milk brand dubbed ‘Morrisons Milk for Farmers’ is an eye-catching one.

The new brand will go on sale in the autumn in all Morrisons stores and will guarantee that 10 pence per litre of the retail price of a four-pinter of milk will go directly to dairy farmers.

Those 10ppl will be added as a premium on to the regular price of a four-pinter, which – based on today’s retail price of a standard bottle – means a hike of about 23.7p to £1.13.

The new brand will sit alongside standard-price Morrisons own-brand milk in the dairy aisle. In effect, it calls the farmers’ (and to that matter the public’s) bluff by saying “go on – pay more, if you really mean it”.

Consumers have long been saying they would pay more for their milk. In fact, they said it to The Grocer in market research just a few months ago. But polls aren’t real life - and so it will be very interesting to see whether shoppers actually do pay more now they have a direct choice, or whether – just as with the exit polls before the recent general election – they say one thing and do another.

There are also questions about whether this is an admission that Morrisons’ normal milk doesn’t support farmers (the retailer insists it isn’t), and whether it paints dairy farmers as a charity case to be pitied rather than dairy being a vibrant part of the UK economy.

Notwithstanding all of this though, it’s a bold move by Morrisons – and a proactive one, given the pressure it’s been under recently. It will be interesting to see whether others will follow.