When we started planning this year’s (delayed) Dairymen in early June, the sector was in the midst of a full-blown coronavirus crisis.

Suppliers to the mults had already spent three months trying to keep up with demand from locked-down shoppers.

But at the same time, businesses reliant on foodservice customers were desperately trying to stay afloat after the channel essentially vanished into thin air in March.

In fact, things looked so bad that our initial theme for this year’s Dairymen was ‘save our dairy’.

That’s until it became apparent that the real (and more compelling) story was about how the dairy industry had pulled together to save itself.

Of course, it’s not out of the woods just yet. And as Dairymen published at the end of last week, we were still no clearer about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

With England now in a second lockdown and the rest of the UK under tight restrictions, there are also fresh concerns over the robustness of dairy supply chains in the run-up to Christmas.

Notwithstanding these challenges, we’ve tried to paint as positive a picture as possible this year. And pleasingly, there’s plenty of material to draw on: from the collaborations to keep milk on shelves, to suppliers pivoting successfully to DTC models, a creative challenge that aims to attract young consumers to the category and a renaissance in demand for milk, cheese and butter.

By now, many of our readers will have read about how the sector demonstrated its ingenuity and tenacity in the supplement sent out with the latest edition of The Grocer. And we’ll be rolling out much more Dairymen content across our online channels over the coming days.

But most importantly, this year’s Dairymen celebrates the heroes of dairy – the ordinary people across the supply chain who went the extra mile to keep supplies on shelf.

We feature the uplifting stories of six of these heroes (nominated by readers of The Grocer) in a special Dairymen feature.

But that’s not all. This year’s Dairymen also marks the launch of The Grocer’s first-ever podcast, which will feature an in-depth interview with each individual dairy hero over the next six weeks.

You can listen to episode one here.

Dairy is often seen as a sector in perpetual crisis, but the challenges of this tumultuous year have also shown it’s an industry that’s resilient, creative and ready for the future.