The Albert Heijn supermarket chain intends to sell its own ‘plus’ milk. This milk will come from dairy farmers who protect field birds, increase biodiversity, store CO2 and put their cows out to graze. The supermarket will buy the milk directly from the farmers and pay them an extra 3 cents per kilo. Good idea, says Hans van Trijp, professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at WUR.
‘I’m all in favour of market differentiation,’ says Van Trijp. ‘I think it’s bold of Albert Heijn to start rewarding sustainability in the form of a higher price for farmers.’
Is 3 percent enough?
‘I don’t know about that. This new kind of dairy chain will have to prove its worth in the next few years. It remains to be seen whether it will be a success in the AH supermarkets. I think AH will carry on selling a lot of cheap mainstream milk alongside this plus milk. And it has to be economically sustainable for the dairy farmers involved; they need to recoup their additional costs. If this chain crashes after three years, it will be very damaging for the farmers who joined it.’
What are the advantages of an AH chain of this sort?
‘The nice thing is that AH pays the farmers a bonus for sustainable production. That is better than a lot of environmental legislation that generates additional costs without the farmers being paid more. Another strong point, I think, is that AH is aiming at integral sustainability. Sustainability is very complex, with environmental and welfare aspects that can be conflicting. Combining aspects such as outdoor grazing and CO2 in an integral concept is a smart move, I think, in both marketing and environmental terms.’
Does this mean a revolution in the world of dairy cooperatives?
‘I don’t think so. It’s part of a trend. Milk was always a bulk product and farmers were interchangeable. The added value and differentiation were created in the dairy factory. We’ve already got organic milk and three-star meat, where added value is created at source. The AH-plus milk is an extension of that. How successful it will be remains to be seen but I do think that is where the strength of Dutch agriculture lies: on the farm.’