The casualties of the milk war still to be counted and breaking news says they will grow

Media coverage of the senate inquiry’s report on the milk war by Coles suggests there have been only victors but this only tells half the story, for every war must have casualties. Instead, my reading of the report is that the government feels there is not much it can do about the fallout.

Gobbledegook like this:

…the ability for processors to ‘walk away’ from negotiations with collective bargaining groups (as highlighted during the committee’s 2010 inquiry), market realities such as the number of drinking milk processors in some areas and the fact that the processors must deal with the two major supermarket chains that dominate the grocery sector, can mitigate the benefits of collective bargaining arrangements.

and this:

Much of this information, however, concentrated on concerns about shifts in sales away from the processors’ branded milk products to the discounted supermarket private label milk. As a matter of overall principle, these types of free market outcomes should not be a matter for government. Many private label grocery products have grown in share in recent years…It should not be a matter for public policy to protect brands that consumers no longer value. It also does appear that the steadily increasing sales of private label milk—which have more than doubled their share of sales in supermarkets over the past decade—is a trend that is unlikely to be reversed.

…actually means that dairy farmers are standing right in the path of the cross-fire as Coles and Woolies spray litres (or should I say “rounds”?) of discounted homebrand milk at each other.

On top of all this, there are news reports that private labels will soon occupy far more supermarket shelf space. It won’t be just dairy farmers in the firing line. All of Australia’s food manufacturers and producers should see this milk war as simply an opening salvo.

How ironic then, that the most articulate description of the milk war’s impact comes from Woolworths:

…this price move has effectively re-based the price of white of milk across Australia overnight, and for an unknown period into the future, which also potentially devalues the whole milk category in the eyes of the consumer. In effect, the consumer baseline for price is now at 1990s levels, but with 2011 input costs for all parts of the supply chain.

4 thoughts on “The casualties of the milk war still to be counted and breaking news says they will grow

  1. An interesting thing for me has been I looked at the dairy cows I bought against the money I would save on butter, milk and cheese. I’m actually probably losing money on the deal, fencing and feed has stayed the same despite the massive drop in cost of milk. Of course I didn’t buy cows just as a pure ecenomic transaction, but it brings home on a micro scale what large producers are facing.


    • Interesting observation, Beeso. The average dairy farmer only makes a 1 to 2 per cent return, so it’s quite a fine balancing act to remain profitable. I don’t think many of us are in it for the money! You really have to love your cows and the land to make the hard yakka worthwhile.


  2. Pingback: An ethical approach to food » Tammi Jonas: Food Ethics

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