As well as forcing some of the UK’s most powerful retailers and processors to up their prices, the dairy farmers have won near-universal support from consumers - with a staggering 19% now looking to change the way they shop as a result.

If shoppers follow through on their promise, it would mean 4.3 million shoppers changing their behaviour in some way, and 2.64 million of these planned to switch retailers, according to the exclusive YouGov poll for The Grocer.

YouGov consumer consulting director Rob Cushen said it was almost unprecedented to see so many intent on changing the way they shop. “There’s always a difference between what consumers say and what they do,” he said. “But it’s extraordinary to think 19% would change the way they shop because of one item in their basket.”

Shoppers are thinking about buying their milk elsewhere because they believe retailers are the main cause of dairy farmers’ woes, with 66% saying retailers are to blame for low farmgate prices, and 29% pointing the finger at processors.

More worrying for the retailers, consumers have little idea that some have been doing more to support dairy farmers than others. Asked which retailers already paid a premium for milk before the protests, 54% of consumers said they did not know, with 11% thinking not a single retailer made extra payments. In fact, all the mults were already doing so.

Even supermarkets praised by farmers before the protests for their price models barely register on consumer radars. Only 10% of the public knew of the premium paid by Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, and only 8% were aware in the case of Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

Tesco director of corporate and legal affairs Lucy Neville-Rolfe said she was surprised Tesco’s “trailblazing” milk price scheme was not better known. “We were one of the first supermarkets to pioneer this approach in 2007,” she said.

Since farmers kicked off their campaign, several other retailers have announced they will be increasing premiums. Ironically, recognition of these recent moves is higher - 26% of consumers said they were aware The Co-op Group had raised its milk price, with 22% mentioning Morrisons and 13% Asda.

Sainsbury’s said it was confident shoppers would also recognise its support for dairy farmers. “We are seeing plenty of evidence that Sainsbury’s customers understand the values that sit behind our sourcing, including milk,” said a spokeswoman.

With over 98% of UK consumers buying milk and dairy products on a regular basis, it was no surprise that customers held strong views about a daily staple that was so important to them, said Dairy UK director general, Jim Begg. “With bad weather and rising feed costs, dairy farmers have been having a tough time lately, and they will undoubtedly appreciate this expression of support from the consumers of their products.”

The NFU said it knew the work of dairy farmers was prized by people across the country but it was still fantastic to receive such great backing from consumers over the issue of milk prices. “It’s interesting that retailers’ actions can be somewhat different to public perception and therefore vital that they all live up to their brand values and CSR commitments at all times,” said President of the National Farmers Union, Peter Kendall. 

The key stats

  • 83% are aware farmers are protesting about low milk prices
  • 67% believe farmers can’t make ends meet and must be paid more, even if this means milk becomes more expensive
  • 19% say they will change the way they buy milk as a result of the protests
  • 11% plan to switch retailers

How we calculated our shopper numbers: There are 47.5 million adults in the UK. According to YouGov, 22.8 million are wholly responsible for doing their household’s shopping. Nineteen percent of 22.8 million is 4.3 million, 11.6% is 2.64 million. Survey conducted with 1,766 adults on 24 July.