Last year, the Minx came across a film called ‘The Moo Man‘ that she fancied seeing, so we went to see it at The Dukes, in Lancaster. It’s a great film and I highly recommend it. It tells the story of a dairy farmer who is struggling to make ends meet. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and yet a little way into the film, you learn that because of the prices that supermarkets pay for milk he is receiving tax credits from the state. He sets out to sell his milk direct to the public to reverse his fortunes. (I tried some; it was unpasteurised and delicious.)
In the days following the film, this whole business about the supermarkets paying farmers less for their milk than it costs to produce started to really bug me, so I wrote to Booths which is the supermarket in the town where I live and the one I use the most. My question was quite simple: do you pay farmers more for their milk than it costs to produce? Since Booths make a big deal out of supporting local farmers, I was hoping for an unequivocal ‘YES’ but I didn’t get it. I just got some waffle. I meant to pursue it but, you know, I was busy and I let it slide.
Then, last week, I saw this sign in Booths:
Now, I don’t believe Booths would lie – I’m sure they do pay more than any other supermarket – but I didn’t like the leap of logic; all of the other supermarkets pay so badly that simply paying more than them didn’t, as far as I could see, ensure a ‘truly fair deal’.
So I tweeted @BoothsCountry and asked “Your ‘Fair Milk’ promotion: do you actually pay the farmers more than the cost of production for each pint?” I didn’t get a reply so I tweeted them again the next day (yesterday) and they did respond this time and said they’d get back to me. And today they did.
They said: “Hi Fenner. Apologies for the delay. Other retailers set their prices based on the cost of production, therefore because…”
“…we pay the highest price of all retailers, we’re reassured that we’re paying above cost of production :)”
“Our farmers; Bryan, Richard, Edward & Roger also tell us our price helps them to reinvest in their farms for the long term”
Which doesn’t *quite* answer the question, does it? And really, if you were offering your farmers a ‘truly fair deal’, wouldn’t you ensure that you were not only paying more than the cost of production but also ensuring the farms made a profit?
At this point, the Minx asked for clarification: “@BoothsCountry @fennerpearson “reassured”? So you DO pay above the cost of production? (apologies for needing clarification)”
Booths then replied, omitting me from the response: “@Artminx We pay the highest price for milk against other retailers, many who base their prices on the cost of production :)”
Which is still curiously evasive, isn’t it? The Minx thought so, too: “. @BoothsCountry It is like talking to a politician. Can you categorically agree you pay more than production? Yes or No?”
Oddly, at this point, Booths became less evasive: “@Artminx Transparency is very important to us at Booths & the cost of production of milk varies for each individual farm…”
“@Artminx We are confident that farmers are receiving the highest price in the market & this more than covers their cost of production” Now, why didn’t they just say that in the first place?
But it didn’t finish there. Our Twitter friend Zoe, then joined in. As her family have a dairy farm, she is well informed on the subject. Booths response: “@Zowrr Hello Zoe, if you’d like to discuss Fair Milk please DM us with your contact details & a member of the team will be in touch :)” Zoe declined. But she did speak to her brother who confirmed that Booths do indeed pay the best prices but only to their four farmers. (That’s Bryan, Richard, Edward & Roger, remember?)
So, now their sign takes on a different meaning:
“Support your local farmers” – yes, we all want to do that.
“We guarantee to pay our farmers more than any other supermarket for every pint of milk” – see that? A little sleight of hand: “to pay our farmers”, i.e. those four farmers. Not necessarily your local farmers.
Now, I like Booths. It’s easily my favourite supermarket, despite being rather expensive, and I spend a lot of money there. But, as I say, I like it and I like the staff. I like the company’s dedication to quality and I like how they do stock local produce. But I don’t like this game their marketing people are playing with the whole ‘fair milk’ promotion. It’s not clear that they are really paying those four farmers more than the cost of production. Yes, they told the Minx that but why didn’t they say it upfront? Why didn’t they tell me that?And why try to move Zoe’s question to DM and off the timeline?
When I asked them last year, Booths couldn’t tell me that that they paid any of their milk providers more than the cost of production. Now they appear to have found a way to make themselves look like the good guys.
But, you know what, maybe they are! Maybe I’ve read this all wrong, looking for disingenuity where there is none. And, frankly, I’d like to be wrong. I’d love to see a supermarket paying the farmers a fair price for milk and I’d be absolutely delighted for that supermarket to be Booths. So, come on Booths, get your story straight or put someone on Twitter who really understands what’s going on and tell us exactly how you’re working to support local farmers. I really want to hear it.