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Delving into our dairy industry

Posted on : 20 January 2017

WORDS: Dilvin Yasa
Article first appeared RAS Times November 2016

With the news that one in six Australians are no longer drinking dairy, comes the question: what does this mean for our dairy industry?

You can blame the media, TV personalities and alternative practitioners, but the end result is the same: according to a study jointly conducted by the CSIRO and University of Adelaide, one in six Australians have stopped drinking milk and consuming other dairy products – often in the misguided belief that dairy is bad for their health.

Of the 1,184 adults surveyed, it was found that the majority of those avoiding dairy (74 per cent) were doing so because they were keen to relieve gastrointestinal problems such as cramping, bloating and wind, while fewer participants admitted avoiding dairy because they believed it was fattening. It’s concerning, but the figures all come down to misinformation, says Blake Robinson, Accredited Practising Dietitian at Dairy Australia, who adds many of those limiting dairy for health reasons are self-diagnosed.

“There’s clearly a lot of noise and confusion out there because we know that only one in ten Australians is meeting the daily dairy serve recommendations,” he says. “However I don’t know that there’s any reason to panic about what this study means for our dairy industry – fresh milk consumption has been stable over the last few years and we’re proud to be able to say we’re the only market globally to maintain that.”

Impacting our dairy industry

Robinson touches on an interesting point – while dietitians are concerned about what a decrease in dairy consumption could do to our health, what does the CSIRO study mean for our $13 billion dollar dairy industry? At first glance, the figures look great – according to Dairy Australia, Australian milk production increased by nearly 360 million litres (or 3.8 per cent) in 2014/2015, and a paper by the Department of Primary Industries recently showed that global demand for Australian dairy products is not only steadily increasing, but is expected to grow from strength to strength, driven by demand in China, South East Asia and the Middle East.

“Dairy farmers supply a 40/60 split to domestic and export so domestic consumption really is half the story,” says Robinson.

One person who’s certainly not worried is Country Valley dairy farmer, John Fairley whose family has been in the industry on and off for over 160 years. While alternative milks and juices have enjoyed what Fairley calls ‘stealth marketing’, they’ve failed to make a dent in the market nation-wide, and it’s been his experience that the numbers of those who enjoy conventional dairy products are only continuing to grow.

“From my personal experience, I can tell you Country Valley continues to do well, and nationally we know the fresh milk market goes up by an average of 1.5 per cent each year,” he says.

Similarly, South Coast Dairy has recently reported a 54 per cent jump in demand for local milk over a one-month period, after social media campaigns demanded a boycott of cheaper milk.

Across the border in Queensland’s Maleny Dairies, farmers Ross and Sally Hopper are declaring a 70 per cent increase over the last three months, adding that keeping up with demand had proven to be one of their greater challenges.
“Queenslanders consume around 500 million litres of milk a year – far more than the 400 million litres we can supply so we have to rely on imports,” says Sally.

It’s the same story for Rachael and Troy Peterken, of Victoria’s Inglenook Dairy, who have been rapidly expanding their brand since launching into the market in 2011.

“Over the last 12 month period, we’ve seen a 50 per cent increase, and with our increased education about the importance of dairy within our schools, we’re confident this is a figure that’s only likely to rise as kids get older and become paying consumers themselves,” says Rachael.

Effects of alternatives

So far, so good, but what of the figures released by research company IBIS which showed that the growth rates for alternative milks such as soy and almond at an average of 5.9 per cent, are eclipsing that of traditional dairy? What do we make of new milk products such as Made by Cow Cold Pressed Milk (a happy medium between totally raw and pasteurised milk), which has just hit the market at $5 for a 750ml bottle? Happily, a 2011 report for Soy Australia Ltd shows Australians, on average, only drink three litres of soy milk per capita, per year – a far cry from the 106.8 litres of cow’s milk we consume. As for the new milk products, there’s every chance they’ll encourage those turning their backs on dairy to come back to moo, says Made by Cow’s founder, Saxon Joye.

“Since we hit Harris Farm shelves in June, we’ve been told that the volume in their milk category has actually increased,” he confides. “And it’s not that our product is cannibalising others, but that our presence is perhaps pointing to other products on the shelves and increasing those figures – it’s really quite exciting.”

Fads might come and go, health concerns – valid or not – may change, but forgetting that creamy taste from the happy memories of your childhood? That’s a hard one to get over, says Joye.

“And whether you get that joy through a product such as ours, or through a pasteurised milk from a boutique dairy, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “They all come back in the end.”

Learn more at Dairy Australia

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