adam leyland

Morrisons has moved at breakneck speed. That much was obvious from the fact the name of the new milk brand it announced this week was ‘Milk for Farmers’, while one of the accompanying images it supplied suggested the milk was called ‘Farmer’s Own’.

Morrisons has now clarified that the milk, to be launched this autumn, will “definitely” be called ‘Milk for Farmers’. But I’m not sure which name is better.

But the real problem isn’t the name: it’s the concept. Challenging protesting farmers through heavy-handed legal recourse clearly backfired, and in that sense the new milk brand represents both a climbdown for the retailer and a victory for the mob. On the other hand, it’s effectively an admission by Morrisons that its regular milk rips farmers off.

At best, therefore, creating a separate brand at a premium price appears short-termist. Indeed, Morrisons’ new milk was already at risk of being overshadowed late on Thursday, when the NFU gave a glowing welcome to Asda’s decision to commit to 28ppl for all its milk supply.

At worst, however, Morrisons’ move will come across as deeply cynical, a ‘tokenist’ move, as one industry commentator put it, to keep the baying mob quiet for a few months.

Of course, there are occasions when some consumers are prepared to pay a premium for a commodity: most commonly for convenience, and to a limited extent around ethical behaviour, notably in the form of Fairtrade goods. Booths has seen sales of its ‘Fair Milk’ increase since the hostilities restarted this summer.

But faced with a choice between two identical milks, Morrisons must surely know the vast majority of its core customer base (older and from a poorer C2DE demographic) will opt for the cheaper option. With marginal sales, Morrisons can then say: ‘QED. Our customers aren’t willing to pay a premium to support farmers. And neither are we.’ And retire the line.

This construct is unfair not so much to farmers as to consumers. As Booths CEO Chris Dee says: “It’s unfair to ask your customers to make a decision to support (or not to support) farmers when stood in front of a milk fixture.” I certainly can’t see how the shopper will thank Morrisons for inducing guilt. And I also don’t see how the Morrisons farmer supply base more generally - with which, through its integrated supply chain, Morrisons appears to have a greater affinity than its big four rivals - will be entirely easy either.