No fresh milk for Australians? Is UHT the next big thing?

It’s been an amazing week. First, milk processor Lion, came right out and said the unthinkable – that a milk price below the cost of production was “fair” and that there need to be fewer dairy farmers in Queensland and New South Wales.

Then, yesterday, Sue Neales (follow her @BushReporter on Twitter) of The Australian reported that “Desperate Australian dairy farmers are looking to fly fresh milk directly into Asia to deprive Coles and Woolworths of their unassailable market power.”.

In Sue Neales’ story, Dairy Connect farmers’ group president Adrian Drury said: “We are telling the supermarkets that they mightn’t always have easy access to fresh milk and that they take us for granted at their peril in their push to force milk prices down.”.

What does that mean for you, the milk drinker?

To put it bluntly, you might find yourself drinking UHT milk rather than fresh milk sooner than I expected. Rumours are rife in dairy-land that Coles is keen to shift you from the fridge to the aisles when it comes to picking up your milk. Coles has quite a contingent of European executives these days, where the move from fresh to UHT has been spectacularly successful for the supermarkets. According to Wikipedia, 7 out of 10 Europeans regularly drink UHT rather than fresh milk.

Why UHT? For supermarkets, the benefits of stocking UHT are huge. It lasts longer, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and, best of all, it can be sourced from far away, increasing their range of supply.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask? After all, there’s evidence that UHT is greener (given it doesn’t need to be refrigerated) and it is still good for you (read more about UHT here, if you like). Question is, do you want to be able to choose?

PS: If The Australian won’t let you read Sue’s story, Google the headline Farmers’ bid to end duopoly milk run and you should be able to read the lot.

31 thoughts on “No fresh milk for Australians? Is UHT the next big thing?

  1. Anyone thinking UHT is the same as fresh milk thinks that eating McDonald’s salads is a great diet. Insanity. Australia needs more supermarket players and quick.

  2. The consumer can vote with his or her feet away from cheap milk, and invest in the fresh milk market by buying branded mill that at least reflects the cost involved in producing it.As consumers, we can’t slavishly buy up cheap, yet unsustainably produced Australian fresh milk and then turn around and moan about UHT if that is not our preference. Before the milk price wars, whenColes milk was around $1.33 a litre, no consumer was heard to complain. Because Coles have decided to set the agenda for the dairy supply chain, by reducing milk to this ridiculous price, there will be less choice for the consumer. Good luck to farmers if they can get a better price overseas. There is nothing wrong with UHT but I am an avid fan of fresh milk. As such I don’t buy anything from a supermarket who operates in such a manner. I wish more consumers would do the same.

  3. We must keep the pressure on the 2 big supermarket chains, thankfully we have the internet and a huge movement to a better deal for farmers and consumers has formed here.
    The way of life for a lot of family farms is being totally undermined by Coles and Woolworths and bad government policies. Keep up the great work.
    I have a facebook page and a web page running in regard to trying to get a fair deal for farmers in the Murray Darling Basin.
    Cheers, Peter Gilmour

  4. UHT tastes awful in tea. Coffee can mask the flavout but not the good old cuppa tea. ALso I really do prefer my milk fresh from reputable dairy farmers in Australia and not from overseas with or with out melamine !!

      • Of course I don’t forget, because I buy my UHT Devondale ‘Smart Milk’ by the box of 10 x 1 litre cartons at my local Murray Goulburn outlet which I use for nearly everything else but my cups of tea – of which there are very many I might add!!

  5. We had that discussion in Denmark many years I started to ask around about the diff. For one the ultra high pasteurized can be stored without regurgitating. Regular milk will turn sour when going bad UTH milk will go rotten.. when going bad. Anybody smelled rotten milk will quickly prefer the normal fresh product.Beside there are always delivery of all the other dairy product that don’t have eternity stamp on the label.

  6. Marian, Our house is probably evenly split between fresh and UHT milk and I can see the advantages of buying UHT milk but in my view, the flavour is so-so.

    The thing I find strange here is the disconnect between the rhetoric of what your Co-op espouses and the somewhat feeble way that it seems to tackle these issues. I would have thought any move by Coles etc to go 100% UHT would offer a marketing dream for your Co-op. Do you think they see it that way? It’s a bit like their efforts on the ‘non-milk’ milk products that have blown milk marketing out of the water. Soy milk is universally accepted now. Rice Milk – not milk, not really even rice, is seen as a healthy and acceptable alternative. How did the milk guys let it get to this?

    And please, don’t get me started on almond ‘milk’, oat ‘milk’, cashew ‘milk’.(yeah I know, I’m a dinosuar – if it aint got mammary glands then in my mind it aint milk)

    • I can’t speak for MG, Ian, and I honestly don’t know how the co-op would respond. Personally, I think non-milk “milks” are valuable for people with intolerances but are certainly not a true replacement, especially for small children.

  7. Having a coffee made on UHT is rather…..well…..much the same as a cup of tea made on UHT…which is not to my taste, thanks…..if they do, I’m getting a milking cow.

  8. Unfortunately I agree most peoples comments on UHT – YUK! however, I do purchase Devondale butter which is GREAT. Coles have not seen my grocery money for two years, until they truly respect Aussie farmers they can go to hell!. We have a great IGA that stocks local branded milk, so that’s where most of my grocery spend goes, unfortunately they drop the ball in the produce isle, so in the absence of a consistent greengrocer I also alternate with the big W.
    Fortunately things are not so tight in the budget that I am forced to buy the home milk – and I usually buy 6-9L at a time!
    Interestingly from photos I have seen of Asian supermarkets, they keep the UHT in the fridge…..

  9. Oh dear, what is wrong with Australian supermarkets! The further we go from fresh and locally produced food and drinks the more problems we are going to have.
    I think this area produces some of the best food and milk anywhere! It’s about time they woke up to the problems quick and cheap have.

  10. Pingback: Design a warning label for cheap milk | The Milk Maid Marian

  11. Well, UHT does fill the gap for us if we can’t get fresh milk. Living in outback Qld, we are sometimes isolated for weeks by rain or floodwater, or both, & the box of UHT in the store room is certainly better than nothing. The shop in our tiny local town was destroyed by fire last year, & we almost lived on it as could only buy fresh if one of us was actually in the next town along the road with an Esky to transport it home safely. The little shop has been rebuilt & opened recently, & we are once again revelling in fresh dairy products. But will still keep the box of Devondale skim on hand…… find the taste of the UHT skim milder than the full cream, nothing like the richness of the milk from the Guernsey milkers I had for years though!

  12. Grew up on powdered milk myself, and never really went off it. These days I keep some UHT portions in the cupboard, but mostly use fresh milk.

    The list of sins of Colesworths is long. When I’m Prime Minister they are going to pay for what they’ve done to the country (just as soon as I’ve done the banks over!)

  13. A: While a valuable food, dairy products, raw or otherwise, are not everyone’s cup of tea. Milk allergies are very real and serious threats today- just ask any pediatrician. Barring the small percentage of folks allergic to all forms of the milk protein casein, you might be able to tolerate raw milk with its self-digesting food enzymes intact. Again, fermented dairy products may be better tolerated by some individuals.

    • Good advice, Gold Account. My toddler is intolerant of dairy products as was his sister. Once she turned two, she became able to eat and drink anything she liked, thank goodness!

  14. You can’t compare these processes by tasting. I live in Greece and we can get any type of milk, even raw that was inside the animal 2 hours before we buy it. In Greece even milk from the big industries is relatively fresh because Greece is a small country. The same process produces a very different taste depending on cow feed at the moment. I have drunk fresh milk for many years, goat, sheep and cow, some it was grass fed from small farms and some was from the farms of my own relatives in the villages. The best milk I have ever tasted was a bottled one with relatively short expiration date (4 days), I tried to find what was different from similar products using the same processes by contacting the company but I had no answer, other than “selected farms and it’s a good time of the year at the moment”. They weren’t even advertising something special about it, just that it tasted good. I doubt it was commercially succesful. People do not really compare products, they go with what they have used in the past. The seasonal taste difference is not now, it also applies to tomatoes and peppers, you can’t beat the on-season fruit quality. I don’t know this milk was better than others in terms of nutrition but the taste and texture was unbelievable.

    UHT does not really have a taste of its own. Actually, from my experience, it’s a process that can have no taste side effects at all, especially if you compare with other methods. That’s easy to see by comparing different brands of UHT. Some of them have no cooked/caramel flavor at all. And from I have learned, every factory does it differently and faces different problems because their milk quality if different in terms of bacteria.

    Homogenization does change the flavor and texture a lot. So does removing cream from the milk.

    We drink a lot of UHT milk in Europe and most of us grew up with evaporated concentrated milk even though we had access to fresh milk. In many countries, fresh carton milk is a relatively new thing, a couple of decades at most, before that it was either fresh or evaporated concentrated. UHT is just practical. I don’t think anyone will have any adverse side effects from UHT milk. I don’t see anything in statistics that would point in the direction of UHT milk being dangerous and I haven’t found any real science behind the claims. Europeans live a good long life and so do Americans and Australians, and we have very different habits in terms of milk fat consumption, UHT milk consumption, etc. I don’t think we are looking at something critical here. UHT will not kill you, meat fat will not kill you, full fat dairy will not kill you.

    If I were you, I would stop worrying and focus on taste. If it tastes bad, the kids will not drink it, and that could become a problem. And if you live in an isolated area in Australia, practicality is everything. But why not have a few animals for fresh meat if that’s the case; Chances are you are not living in a flat. You can produce milk and cheese, it doesn’t take much time and you might even like it.

  15. Relying on taste buds as an indicator of what’s healthy is about as sane as sticking a wet finger in an electrical socket. How many kids thumb their noses at a plate of steamed veggies and fish, but will happily scoff down a Maccas?

    For what it’s worth, an ex co-worker, who’s sister and husband were dairy farmers, implored everyone they knew not to touch UHT milk because, they said, of the processes and toxic chemicals involved. Let’s face it, chemicals that keeps milk ‘fresh’ indefinitely (as long as it remain unopened) sounds to me like those used in the embalming business.

    Why would anyone willingly drink UHT crap for the sake of Coles and Woolies profit margins? Wallets will snap shut faster than they can say “profit margin” before those two goons get away with it.

  16. Make raw milk legal….all nutrients is present tastes great n just YUMM…well unless u have compromised immune system….the boil it….

    Uht forget it….

  17. lol…Most of the population is already buying the cheap milk and will continue to. It’s time that people realised its over wanting it to be or not, you will buy in the end there will be no other options.

  18. So aside from taste, what are the pros and cons of UHT for either farmers or consumers? Also, which is more environmentally friendly – UHT or fresh?

    • Hi brh418, You might find this link handy: // Sorry the Curtin link in it is broken but, from memory, UHT is more environmentally-friendly because it doesn’t need to be kept cold.

      • What about any extra energy required to produce UHT vs. ‘standard’ milk? I’d also like to know any environmental pros or cons of powdered milk.
        Thanks for more interesting reading.

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