Fears for future of milk rounds

Customers face a big increase in the price of doorstep milk deliveries from this weekend with cost of a pint set to rise by 4p.The price hike, caused by a worldwide surge in demand for milk, has prompted fears that the days of the traditional milkman could be numbered, leaving many customers in rural areas with no alternative supplier.

Customers face a big increase in the price of doorstep milk deliveries from this weekend with cost of a pint set to rise by 4p.

The price hike, caused by a worldwide surge in demand for milk, has prompted fears that the days of the traditional milkman could be numbered, leaving many customers in rural areas with no alternative supplier.

The price of milk has already risen in supermarkets by about 16.5pc since the beginning of September, taking the cost of a pint to 40p, and the cost of a four-pint pack from £1.15 to £1.34.

Now two of the region's leading dairies, East of England Co-op and Dairy Crest, have followed suit, increasing the price of a pint from 49p to 53p, a rise of 8pc.

The increase has been blamed on soaring demand for milk products in China and the Middle East, where living standards are improving and diets are changing.

At home, the escalating cost of animal feed and poor weather over the summer has led to lower amounts of milk being produced.

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Jon Clemo, development officer for Norfolk Rural Community Council, said: “Milk, like bread, is a basic staple for many people and when the prices of these items go up those hardest hit are the most vulnerable people in our society.”

He said many people living in isolated villages or without access to transport had no choice but to pay a premium for home deliveries.

“This rise may price them out of the market and leave them with fewer options. We're certainly concerned about any action which changes the market and leads to greater social exclusion.”

Mr Clemo said the price rise, which makes doorstep-delivered milk yet more expensive than the supermarket product, could hasten the demise of the milkman.

“There's a real risk that this will lead to a decline in demand. It will be interesting to see whether doorstep delivery organisations will bring in other services or benefits to counteract that.

“Milkmen can also be the friendly eyes and ears of the community. With the loss of services like pubs, shops, churches and milk deliveries, there is a loss of contact and the potential to lose those eyes and ears.”

Dairy Crest has written to customers, telling them prices will rise from Sunday , with the amount paid to farmers increasing by 3.85p per pint.

A spokesman said the move would ensure a continued supply of fresh British milk for its doorstep customers.

She said it would have been impossible for the company to absorb the extra costs. “All our costs have gone up and if this was not passed on to customers, we would have been making milk at a loss.

“By passing the increase directly to farmers we are helping to create a sustainable market for their milk.

“The customers we have spoken to have understood the reasons for the price rises. However, it is early days and we will continue to talk and listen to customers, as we always do.”

Dairy Crest delivers to 1.6m households every day. “There is always a future for doorstep delivery: one of the reasons in the current climate that people enjoy having milk delivered is they know it is in a bottle that has been recycled forty times and is delivered in an electric vehicle,” added the spokesman.

“The rate of decline in household deliveries has slowed and our trials of online ordering, through our 'Milk & More' initiatives, are going well.”

Dairy Crest customer Cecilia Ebbage, 90, of Gorleston, said: “I'm annoyed to think we have to pay extra, but the milkmen are marvellous.

“Getting my milk delivered is much more convenient for me, but I feel for a lot of elderly people who can't afford the extra money. I also feel desperately sorry for the farmers and I hope this will save the situation for them.”

Miriam Harrup, of East of England Co-op, said: “The price we pay for raw milk has risen by 32pc in the past six months and to maintain and ensure future supply of milk we are increasing the price to our doorstep customers by 4p a pint from October 1. All of this increase will be passed back to the farmers.

“Our doorstep customers have been notified of the price change and the impact has been minimal so far.”

Dairy farmer Tom Crawford, of Topcroft, near Bungay, produces milk solely for the East of England Co-op. On the price he receives for his milk, he said: “We have been down as low as 20p a litre (11p a pint) and it's just crept up to 22p a litre (12.5p a pint).

“Next month it should be going up considerably - by at least four or five pence a litre. It will keep the wolf from the door and make the bank manager a little happier, but if you have had 10 years of serious under-investment it will take a long period of good prices to make up for that.”

Being a dairy farmer at the current time was “dire”, he said. “Our costs have gone through the roof. We were getting 25p a litre 10 years ago but the price of milk in the shops hasn't gone down.

“We can't stomach it much longer. We've had foot and mouth and now bluetongue driving nails into us. There's no market for the calves in this country any more but we can't export them.”

“Food in this country has just got cheaper and cheaper. Realistically the price has to go up. Finally we aren't going to be working for nothing.”

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