Interest in provenance is opening up new opportunities for regional dairy companies. But can they command a premium?

It’s no secret that provenance is big news in food, and dairy is no exception. As consumers become more interested in where their food comes from, regional dairy companies are ratcheting up their local credentials.

Shoppers are keen to connect more with their food, and dairy is ideally placed to deliver on this, says Francis Clarke, commercial director at Cornish dairy company Trewithen Dairy. “Milk has one of the most understandable ‘farm to table’ links, providing a host of opportunities to capitalise on,” he says.

So what strategies are companies using to highlight their provenance, and can they convince shoppers regional dairy is worth paying more for?

Regional dairy products in and of themselves are nothing new, but suppliers have become more focused on brand management and marketing recently, sparking a wave of rebranding and packaging overhauls.

Trewithen Dairy unveiled a completely new brand identity for its products with the strap ‘happy healthy Cornish cows’ in June, while - in the same month - Graham’s The Family Dairy refreshed its range to reinforce its Scottish provenance. Meanwhile, Welsh supplier South Caernarfon Creameries overhauled the branding of its Dragon dairy products last year, adding Welsh language on-pack descriptions and pushing its Welsh origins in its marketing.

“Regionality is an important point of difference but consumers are motivated by value” Sandy Wilkie, Wiseman

MD Alan Wyn-Jones says the company decided to play up its Welsh heritage because consumer research shows shoppers want to buy more Welsh products but are often unsure of the authenticity of the food they’re buying. “The rebranding helped Dragon enjoy phenomenal success, enabling us to obtain national listings in major supermarkets in Wales,” he says, claiming sales of Dragon Cheddar alone have gone up by 400% following the relaunch.

But pushing regional credentials is not just about currying favour with local audiences. Consumers associate regional heritage with superior product quality, making regional branding an attractive platform from which to reach audiences beyond the regions.

Wensleydale Creamery - already represented in supermarkets nationwide through its cheeses - is looking to repeat that presence with its new butter brand, Dales Butter, made with Yorkshire milk.

The marketing of revamped brands is also crucial to attract shoppers. In the absence of heavyweight advertising budgets, regional players have to be creative, and social media has proved an invaluable tool, says Clarke at Trewithen Dairy. “We now have Trewdy, a tweeting cow, and a Facebook page to keep consumers in touch,” he says. The company also made headlines far beyond the region earlier this year, when it relaunched its brand with a stunt featuring American diver Professor Splash, who dived into 12 inches of Trewithen milk from a 30ft height. Because of this approach, sales of Trewithen’s milk, clotted cream and butter are up 25% year-on-year and the company has secured a listing in 175 Asda supermarkets, he adds.

Social media has also been key to Tim’s Dairy, a yoghurt brand from the Chilterns, which runs a Facebook page and produces a bi-monthly newsletter to keep consumers in the loop. “As one of the only dairies producing yoghurt in the region, marketing has been crucial to our success locally and in the wider area,” says a spokesman.

Others have focused on finding new ‘occasions’. Cornish clotted cream maker Rodda’s has tapped into nationwide interest in all things British this year, underpinned by its ‘101 Uses and Excuses’ campaign, which aims to show the versatility of its products. MD Nicholas Rodda says the brand’s market penetration has gone up by 17% in the past 12 months, with year-on-year sales in foodservice alone rising by 42%, as cafés and tearooms have pushed classic afternoon teas as a symbol of Britishness to tie in with celebrations around the Jubilee and the Olympics.

Regional players are not alone in wanting to tap into consumer interest in regional foods - some of the country’s largest dairy companies and co-ops, many of which have regional assets in their portfolios, are just as keen to promote their provenance.

Robert Wiseman Dairies - which sells six regional milks under its Black and White brand - recently launched a ‘Miss Moo-niverse’ campaign to highlight its milks’ regional provenance, asking shoppers to vote for their favourite “catwalk cow” from different regions.

First Milk, which owns the Pembrokeshire Cheddar and Scottish Pride brands, has also identified regional provenance as a key selling point. Commercial director Richard Hollingdale says an increasing proportion of its volume sales now comes from cheese with a regional heritage.

Lactalis McLelland, meanwhile, is pushing the Scottish-ness of its Orkney Cheddar through an on-pack promotion with Scottish tableware producer the Just Slate Company.

“Milk has an understandable farm-to-table link and many opportunities to capitalise on” Francis Clarke, Trewithen

Adding value?

All this activity is clear evidence of growing interest in regional dairy products, but suppliers are more muted over whether this interest can translate into shoppers paying more. “Regionality is an important point of difference, but consumers, particularly at the moment, are motivated by value,” says Wiseman sales and marketing director Sandy Wilkie.

Clarke at Trewithen agrees. “To generate volume, the price must be competitive,” he says. “However, provenance can significantly enhance a brand and the trick is mixing these elements together to create well-priced, branded products that offer consumers more than the norm.”

Paul Thompson, owner of Durham-based Embleton Hall Dairies, raises an additional concern about the longer-term positioning of regional dairy products - the British dairy industry remains in flux, with many producers leaving the sector every year. “The situation is so volatile on an industry-wide level that it’s raising questions of national provenance, never mind local,” he says.

Despite these challenges, he remains upbeat overall. “I’m confident that there’ll always be a niche for good-quality, locally sourced food, and I believe that will include dairy,” he says.

With dairy companies now upping their game on regional branding and marketing, consumers interested in local foods can be certain they will have plenty of regional dairy options to choose from.