Report Synopsis

Value in the Marketplace for Grass-Fed Dairy Products

Joe Lyng

The Irish dairy industry has never been so important to the Irish economy contributing 33% of all food exports in 2018. To put this into context, the agri-food sector accounted for 10.3% of total exports in 2018. Between the periods 2009-2016 agri-food exports increased by 56% and currently makes up 8.6% of total employment on average (Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 2018). With such growth it has never been so important to diversify the increasing Irish milk pool to create more value within the supply chain.

In recent years grass-fed has been trending as a demand consumers looked for when buying dairy, particularly in the Europe and the US. The term grass-fed in dairy has different interpretations depending on the country or region making the claim. There is no distinct definition however the difference often comes down to days at grass or percentage of grass in the cows diet. Irish dairy farming is unique in that 77% of the cows diet on a fresh matter basis comes from grazed pasture or 96% of the total diet if including grass silage. This is significantly higher than other countries or companies competing in this category outside of New Zealand.

In order to create value it is important to explore and highlight all of the positive attributes Irish dairying offers. One of the key attributes is how the composition of milk changes when cows graze pasture. There is a large amount of compositional related scientific studies demonstrating the apparent beneficial impacts of grass based feeding on the nutritional composition of milk, with increases in fat, protein, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega3. It is also more profitable for the farmer. However clinical data linking grass-fed cows to having a positive impact on human health is currently lacking.

Having visited dairy enterprises and businesses in the US, China, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, this report looks at:

  • The consumer’s attitude to dairy and how grass-fed can heighten confidence in the category
  • The potential health benefits of grass-fed dairy
  • The opportunity grass-fed presents to the Irish dairy industry
  • How technology can strengthen our claims, providing consumers with real time analysis

It is no longer acceptable to make soft claims about the food we eat. Up to now grass-fed has been a soft claim. With increased pressures, driven by the consumer’s around health, the environment, animal welfare standards and traceability. I believe we are entering a new era where transparency and origin will drive the success of food businesses. Digital farming is a possible way farmers can achieve this.

If consumers relate grass-fed as something more meaningful and measurable than simply cows outside grazing pasture, then Irish dairy is well positioned to create value within the grass-fed category. Provided the message is clear, the approach is simple and all industry stakeholders buy in.

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