Can free-range dairy get a second bite of the cherry?


Interesting news that Asda is to stock the Free Range Dairy Farmers brand of milk, carrying the Pasture Promise logo. The listing offers the opportunity for an important litmus test – and update – of consumers’ current attitudes towards milk production methods and their willingness to trade up in the category.

Learnings from the egg category

On the one hand, it is just the latest in a string of added value milk listings by mainstream retailers, as supermarkets seek to convince consumers to pay more for milk. On the other hand, it’s much more interesting, given the sales success of ‘free-range’-labelled eggs in recent years.

Free-range butter

Worth noting though, that, back in 2007, in the UK, Anchor butter was repositioned as the The Free Range Butter Company, though current packaging and advertising doesn’t reflect that today. In recent years, marketing has, instead, focused on its place in the family home and its use in baking.

Shifting consumer attitudes to dairy? 

Major developments in dairy post-2007, though, may have laid the foundations for free-range milk to have a second bite of the cherry in the dairy category. We’ve had a debate, played out in the media, over mega-dairies and indoor production; the devaluation of conventional milk & the launch of a number of new value-added milks: Booths’ Fair Milk, Morrisons’ Milk For Farmers, Arla’s Big Milk, Protein Milk, A2 Milk, to name a few. And of course, the horse meat scandal, which brought a greater focus on food production methods.

If these developments have caused consumers to no longer see milk as ‘just milk’, to recognize differentiation within the category, and to care more about how it was produced, then free-range milk may stand a chance.

After all, the recent success of free-range eggs has been down to major developments in the egg category, which arguably caused consumers to revaluate the production systems the eggs they buy come from. Developments include celebrity chefs highlighting concerns around the welfare of conventional chicken production, and the EU ban on battery cages.

The future 

If, like free-range eggs, free-range Pasture Promise milk achieves mainstream sales success, one wonders whether it could open the door to milks produced via other production systems, such as barn-reared or enhanced welfare (as per the chicken and egg categories). Could that, in turn, reopen the debate around high-welfare ‘mega-dairy’ production systems in which cows can spend much of their time indoors?

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