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While independent fine food retailers are designed to be a cornucopia of speciality food and drink, from the exotic to the downright innovative, there’s something to be said for stocking the basics – but doing them really, really well. Lockdown proved that shoppers will come flocking to indie stores if they sell the produce they want to buy, be that indulgent but affordable treats or daily necessities, and dairy produce such as yoghurt, milk and butter offer the perfect opportunity to tick all boxes in one fell swoop.
Kent-based food hall Macknade has not only invested in great quality dairy but has explored the opportunities provided by zero-waste formats, too – and it’s reaping the rewards. The retailer has taken on a refillable service for Otties yoghurt, a local-to-them family business. “This yoghurt is absolutely beautiful and comes from a local family-run business based in Kent’s Elham Valley,” explains Stefano Cuomo, managing director of Macknade.
It’s not only the quality of the product that’s going down well; the move to environmentally friendly retail formats is proving popular with customers. “Like us, Otties is pushing the boundaries to reduce its environmental impact on the world,” explains Stefano. “It’s really important for us to support the growth and reach of local businesses and this is just one example of the relationships we cultivate. Not only are we confident that we are offering a premium yoghurt product to our customers, it is also helping us to meet our own goals of reducing the packaging and waste produced by the business. Not to mention that it tastes incredible.”
Dairy produce is a food type in which it’s relatively easy to tell the difference between high-quality and low-level options, so by giving fine food customers an alternative to the cheap milk, yoghurt and butter readily available in supermarket chillers you can be confident that it will be lapped up. “There’s a vast difference between low-quality, mass market dairy and independent, smaller producers,” begins Shaun Young, founder and director of The Estate Dairy.
Founded in 2016, The Estate Dairy offers a range of artisan dairy products in the heart of North Somerset’s Chew Valley. Their milk, cream, cultured butter and Greek yoghurt are all sourced from small family farms which operate on free-range farming systems – a badge fine food shoppers are not only familiar with, but prepared to spend more for. “It’s highly important that consumers have more access to artisan lines across all food sectors,” he says, a prospect as old as the hills for delis, farm shops and food halls, but often forgotten when it comes to basic dairy products.
As with every sector in the food industry, quality dairy comes with its markers worth looking out for so retailers and shoppers alike can sort the cheap from the gold top products. “A key thing would be traceability, being able to go to the farm from where the milk is sourced is hugely important,” explains Shaun.
Consumers appreciate the effort independent retailers go to in explaining the story behind the food they’re buying, what makes it different and why it’s worth spending more for quality, and dairy is no different. “Produce with unique and differentiating processing methods are the ones to look out for, and milk that’s unhomogenised would be a good example of this,” says Shaun.
When it comes to justifying the unavoidable price hike of high-quality dairy products over low-cost options, education at retail level is key. “Quality comes at a significantly higher cost,” Shaun says. “The quality of raw materials and how they are sourced and produced are important factors to consider,” and thankfully the deli shopper is primed to learn more. If staff manpower doesn’t allow for in-person explanation at the display or point of sale, try some static displays. Blackboards explaining the provenance and story of the items displayed next to them could go down well, and avoid any ‘how much?!’ moments.
Daylesford Farm has long sold quality dairy products to discerning customers. Here, Peter Kindle, head cheesemonger and manager of the creamery at the business’s farm, explains more.
There are several ways to approach this as, when a consumer chooses to buy good quality organic dairy, it doesn’t just benefit their health, it benefits the planet. Intensively farmed milk might be cheaper to purchase but it is to the detriment of the animal’s health and longevity. Good quality dairy should be produced sustainably, protecting the welfare of the animals. As for the consumer’s health, choosing organic means they can be sure that the product won’t be associated with antibiotics or any heavy chemicals linked to mass farming that may pass from grass, to cow, to milk.
Look for organic and look to avoid products of high-intensity farming, which focuses on economics rather than ethics. Moreover, avoid homogenisation. The technology for homogenised milk became widespread to make it more marketable to consumers. Unfortunately, the process also effects the milk’s proteins and when you mess with the protein, you mess with digestibility. Some customers may question the higher price of quality products, comparing costs to supermarket products.
The cost monetarily might be low but environmentally, the cost is enormous. There are big moral consequences by buying things as cheap as we can. Reducing production costs invariably brings a need for artificial chemicals and fertilisers which continue to degrade the environment and it’s not sustainable.
Our range covers milks, butter, yoghurts and cheeses, many of which are award winning. Our cheeses are made using traditional methods and we have some classics like the Single and Double Gloucesters, plus our own creations like the Adlestrop, Penyston and Baywell. We started producing kefir several years ago, which has been hugely popular. There are three flavours: Organic Milk Kefir, Organic Blueberry & Açaí Kefir and Organic Ginger, Turmeric & Honey Kefir. As a sustainable farm, we like to close the loop and avoid any wastage which is how we came to sell our Buttermilk. It is made from the liquid left behind after churning the cream for butter and creates a creamy, tangy, low-fat, high protein and versatile ingredient.
This article originally appeared in Cheese Buyer 2021. Download a copy for more insights into today’s cheese industry.
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