Small dairy processors in South-East Queensland have been overwhelmed by the continued show of support from consumers buying farmer-branded milk.
Maleny Dairies has experienced a 66 per cent increase in demand in the last three weeks, while Cooloola Milk and Burton’s Fraser Coast Milk’s sales are up by around 20 per cent.
It has been an unexpected benefit of Australia’s dairy crisis, nearly two months after the nation’s largest dairy processor Murray Goulburn slashed milk prices to its farmers, with Fonterra following suit.
Consumers have reacted to the sight of desperate farmers marching through city streets, putting their money where their mouth is and buying farmer-branded milk.
Maleny Dairies and Cooloola Milk are both pushing to keep up with a surge in demand for their products.
“It’s extraordinary what’s happening, and I’m just very, very thankful for the public support,” Maleny Dairies supplier Ross Hopper said.
“They’ve got behind dairy farmers. The turnaround is very good and locally it’s made a huge impact; we’re working to keep up for sure.
Mr Hopper said shelves were being stripped bare of his company’s Guernsey milk.
“We’ve delivered to some shops in the morning, then had them ring up a couple of hours later saying, ‘It’s all gone, can we get another emergency delivery?’ We’re doing a fair bit of that.”
Maleny Dairies is supplied by eight local farmers and is in negotiations to sign a contract with a ninth, who bought a mothballed dairy farm in the Mary Valley.
“He’s wanting to convert it back to a dairy, we can’t say who he is yet, we’re still working with him and when it happens it’ll definitely be a good thing for the Mary Valley.
“With the local farmers you know where your food’s coming from and there’s low food miles.”
Asked whether he thought the consumer trend to buy branded milk would continue Mr Hopper said: “It’s not going backwards at all, it’s gradually still moving up and we’re very thankful.
“We’ve got to be smart operators and make sure that we service the community and hopefully it’ll pay off in the long run.”
More than an hour’s drive away from Maleny in the Mary Valley, Cooloola Milk’s Dick Schroder has been rushing to keep up with a spike in demand for his company’s Eumundi Noosa, Cooloola full cream, skim, organic and budget brands.
The Dagun-based factory processes Jersey milk from five local dairy farms, distributing it to Northern Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Gympie and Hervey Bay.
He doesn’t have a Facebook page, Instagram, or a marketing or sales team, instead relying on word of mouth.
Mr Schroder estimates sales have been up around 20 per cent since the milk crisis struck in the south.
“In some areas they’re up more than others. It’s not across the board. I think it depends on the individual retailer more than anything,” he said.
“It’s been nice, although it’s been a headache getting the milk to fill the orders because our biggest problem is balancing supply with demand.”
“We’ve been working a day ahead. Normally we’ve been working a day behind for if you have a break down or something’s not quite right, but as you can see by the cold room it’s all gone,” he laughed.
“So we haven’t got any milk up in reserves; it’s all just gone out.”We look forward to the weekend so we can build up our supply and keep going again.”
“We could probably be bigger than what we are but you lose control and the bigger you are the more susceptible you are because we get hit all the time with cut price milk with different shops.
“The bigger you are the bigger the target whereas now I can say OK if we lose that one we’ve picked up this one.
“It’s never ending and I just feel that the level I’m at is good enough for me to manage, I haven’t got any managers or anything like that — it’s just me and the 12 staff.
“You’ve just got to go very careful, and conservative in how you do things.”
In the Wide Bay, Burton’s Fraser Coast Milk has increased production by 20 per cent.
The independent processor is using winter feed reserves to bump up supply to Maryborough and Hervey Bay, but their product still sells out within a day.
It is a vastly different landscape to the uncertainty still facing around 200 Queensland dairy farmers who are negotiating with Parmalat over the price they’ll be paid at the farm gate when their contracts end late this year.