How to dance with a Goliath

What would you say to encourage other dairy farmers to share their stories? Well, today, I am be doing just that, speaking to attendees of the Holstein Australia AGM via the internet and my message will be simply this:

“Whether we know it or not, ordinary Australians – farmers and non farmers – are fighting a desperate battle for good, fresh food against the Goliaths who increasingly control what we grow and what we eat.

The statistics are frightening. As ethical.org.au reports,

“Australia has one of the most concentrated grocery markets in the world. Woolworths and Wesfarmers (owner of Coles) account for almost 80% of supermarket sales, 60% of alcohol retail, 50% of petrol retail and 40% of all retail in Australia.”

According to an investigation by The Age one in every four grocery items now sold in Australian supermarkets is private label and, of those, about one in two is imported.

And who can blaim the Aussies happily scooping up the bargains? There is no warning label on these homebrand goods warning that choice and freshness will be the casualty. To make matters worse, we farmers don’t have the advertising and PR budgets to get the message heard.

But we do have people power. If you’re a little person, the only way to fight a Goliath is to think differently. The “Accidental Activist”, Jane Burney, did it with a rant on the Coles Facebook page. So can we.

Jane Burney

If you want to stay on the land or continue to enjoy high quality fresh food, please spread the word. Buying private label milk isn’t a sin but if you decide to make that choice, make it an informed choice.

9 thoughts on “How to dance with a Goliath

  1. Thanks for another great blog. I moved from Sydney to a country town and generally find it harder to find locally produced products. Just remember more and more people want to buy locally and support our farmers so keep up the good work and getting the word out there.

  2. Well done Marian. It’s clear we are fighting a global Goliath. We may not bring down Goliath but by engaging with the people who buy our milk, farmers can at least start to influence his behaviour.

  3. Hi Marian

    I’m a big fan of fresh branded milk and supporting dairy farmers but I have to admit that I get a little uneasy when I see the argument simply portrayed as David v Goliath.

    As an individual farmer, sure you are a ‘david’. But arent you meant to have a cooperative looking after you, to help combat the ‘goilaths’? Where are they? Why arent they pushing this as the number one issue? Where are all the ads telling us consumers about the perils of buying noname milk? Are they asleep at the wheel or are they simply too afraid to take on Coles and Woolies?

    The other nagging thought I have (and please excuse me if it is too direct) is – how as a consumer do I know if the dairy farmers who are complaining about the low returns arent just the most inefficient producers? Sure they may be losing money but maybe those who are selling milk to the nonamers are more efficient and can still make a good return at that low price?

    • Good questions, Ian. Dairy farmers from Australia and New Zealand are the lowest cost producers in the developled world and highly efficient. At 13 cents per litre, there is not a dairy farmer in the country who can make ends meet, let alone make a good return.

      The co-operative and all the other dairy processors are also suppliers of branded milk to Coles and Woolies. It would be brave, if not foolhardy, of them to launch a campaign against the supermarket giants. The senate committee and the ACCC have been swamped with anonymous complaints but have been finding it difficult to get people to go on record – not just the milk processors – but manufacturers in general. Do a bit of Googling and you’ll see that a handful of really massive companies have found dealings with them very tough. Check out this story among many: http://www.smartcompany.com.au/agribusiness/049681-australia-s-supermarkets-accused-of-putting-the-squeeze-on-food-producers.html

      • Thanks Marian

        Wicked problem indeed…

        So given that the vast majority of consumers think that milk is milk is milk, how do you differentiate fresh Australian (well really Victorian!) milk from the rest?

        The coop is euchred as you say but there must still be a place for marketing the branded fresh Aussie stuff without annoying Coles or Woolies. Even a relatively modest direct appeal to consumers would have a positive effect. Leveraging social media also makes perfect sense.

        If not, what you are left with is direct marketing or developing a niche market, both of which are loaded with upfront costs before you turn a quid. Both might work but both suffer from the problem that in order to boost your milk, you have to denigrate the ‘other’ milk. Such strategies are fraught with risk lest the consumer just think all milk is ‘other’ . Bigger slice or bigger pie???

        (off on a tangent what is a bit scary is that many of the alternative marketing approaches that may work are simply reinventing what happened 40+ years ago. Every small town – and most suburbs in the main cities – had their own ‘dairy’. Country people knew where the milk was from and as most were small scale co-ops, there was direct farmer involvement. Even in the cities, the same ‘direct supply chain’ kept us in milk…I am old enough to remember the milk delivered to the front door from the local dairy, horse drawn and all…(my kids don’t believe me that milko’s on horse drawn carts still delivered the milk in the 1970’s)

        • You have hit the nail on the head, Ian, and the denigration of “other” milk is precisely what caused the permeate debacle, which further devalued milk.

          The other issue with direct and niche marketing is the workload. Dairying is already a seven day per week job.

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