The post-covid world has presented huge opportunities for grass-fed dairy products because of how it has changed consumer buying patterns, leader of Ireland’s billion-dollar Kerry Gold dairy brand says.
Speaking via Zoom at the Pasture Summit in Hamilton, Ornua chief executive John Jordan says there is “without question” growth opportunities for grass-fed dairy products.
Ornua is the owner of Ireland’s Kerry Gold brand, exporting to 110 countries around the world.
What is unknown, he says, is what life will be like post-covid.
In developed markets, it forced consumers to eat at home and this magnified some of the emerging consumer trends pre-covid. These included the absolute need and want for brand transparency and integrity.
“The questions and engagement they ask is phenomenal. The trust they have in products is critical and it’s really important that we protect that,”Jordan says.
He says there had been a realisation that what people ate impacted on their health and dairy has been seen as a very positive part of a diet.
It had led to a resurgence of dairy and it had performed very strongly in all of Ornua’s markets.
“We genuinely believe that because Ireland and New Zealand are the two countries remaining for grass-based systems … that’s a USP (unique selling point) – it’s a real point of difference. It’s a physical difference you can see in the product.”
He described Kerry Gold as its “crown jewel” and a great asset.
“It’s Ireland’s first-ever billion-Euro brand,” he says.
That branding was centred on milk produced from grass-fed cows in Ireland.
Its butter was the second largest brand in the United States behind Land-O-Lakes’.
There had been a fundamental shift in people’s attitudes, Nestlé head of dairy corporate sustainable agricultural development Robert Erhard said, also via Zoom.
People recognised they lived in a finite environment and they had a duty to take care of the planet.
“The sense of accountability is very strong. All of us have a role to play,” Erhad says.
It was no longer about what people or companies did, but what they were impacting and this is why companies had adopted language such as responsible sourcing and rebuilding nature.
Farmers needed to think about the inputs they use and the biodiversity that was there, how it was built up and nurtured and how they can capture evidence and proof of how they are driving that forward.
“You are doing a lot of things right. Let it be captured and let it be shared that you are on a regenerative form of agriculture,” he says.
“We as a dairy industry need to move towards low-carbon dairy farming or net-zero dairy farming.”
He says this was challenging but possible.
“That is something if you are looking to the future to what will matter, climate is going to be an important part,” he says.
He defined regenerative agriculture as a farming method where the farmer works with nature rather than against it, including water and soil health and biodiversity and animal welfare.
Consumers were asking farmers to move towards this type of agriculture, he says.
There will be a transformation for the dairy production system and for those operating a production system closer to nature, it should be less challenging.
Added to this list are animal welfare and paying workers a living wage.
“We are under a certain time pressure, so there is a speed that is required and a scale that if we really want to move the needle, it’s not about individual farms, it’s about production systems at scale and that can only happen if we don’t leave anyone behind. We have to move forward jointly together.”
Nestlé had committed to being net zero emissions by 2050 and to regenerative agriculture. It wanted to achieve this through a collaborative approach to ensure dairy had a good future, he said.
Erhard says there are beverage products out there that are wanting to compete with milk and are trying to mimic milk’s nutritional elements.
“Moving away from animal proteins in a healthy diet realistically is very challenging for anyone up to 20-30 years of age,” he says.
He saw plant-based protein drinks as complementing dairy, rather than in competition as global population growth continued.
“When you look at additional milk volume growth that is happening on the plant, with the additional people that are required, I think we are seeing an enemy we may not actually have,” he says.
It was not a question of one or the other, but finding the right balance between the two.