Free PR Advice: Don’t cry over consumed milk

2% Partly Skimmed Milk Splash
Image Credit: Robbie’s Photo Art, Flickr

One of the big rules of the internet age, especially when emails can be circulated and become viral in, well, seconds, is never put anything in writing that you don’t want going viral.

PR companies should know this. Which is what makes this email from the boss of a PR consulting firm to his staff particularly special.

“So, I am gravely serious when I write this – if I catch someone not replacing the milk, or at least, in the case where the downstairs store has close already, not sending an email to the office so the first person that arrives (usually Christa or me) can pick one up upon arrival – then I am going to fire you. Im not joking. You will be fired for not replacing the milk, and have fun explaining that one to your next employer. This is not a empty threat so PLEASE don’t test me.”

Now he’s saying it’s all a big hyperbolic joke, and there’s been a misunderstanding… but that’s trying to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. Here’s the story on Business Insider.

Crying over cheap milk

A long long time ago I posted about milk prices. I suggested they were too high. Or that people should complain about them, rather than about the price of petrol. Milk, is, afterall, completely renewable.

Pure Milk
Image Credit: Flickr

Now. I know farmers work hard to earn a living. And I hate that their prices are essentially controlled by our retail duopoly. And I know the margins are pretty low in milk farming because they are being, no pardoning of this pun, milked for every drop.

But I don’t share the dairy lobby’s angst when it comes to the price of milk (see another story where they call price drops “un-Australian”) in Coles and Woolworths (Update: Franklins and Aldi have joined the price war).

The supermarkets are having a price war. So what. This happens all the time in retail. But when it comes to milk, and the price of milk, this is a useful pawn in an economic game. Milk prices are determined by a contractual arrangement. And the contracts are up for renegotiation soon. That’s all these calls to boycott Coles and Woolies milk are. And they’re a little dumb.

Using milk as a loss leader to attract customers (and promising that they’ll wear the costs of dropping the price, rather than the farmers). Now, I am all for lobby groups looking to protect their interests. That’s how capitalism works. So I think it’s great that the dairy guys are out their suggesting Coles and Woolworths won’t wear the cost of a price drop for long. But this argument kind of misses the point of loss leading.

I’m sure the big two would love to have the farmers making no profit on their labours at all – but what they wouldn’t like – is for all the milk farmers to go out of business at once. Leaving them with no supply. Loss leading is essentially a marketing tactic, and I’d hope (perhaps naively) that the cost of dropping the price of milk to $1 a litre, is coming from the marketing side of the supermarket budget, rather than the procurement side. Choosing a staple product like milk to fight with a competitor who in just about every sense offers an identical product is a great move.

Unless there are farmers out there who like selling their milk at below cost (and already the lobby groups seem to be making noise about that being unsustainable) – I’d say the big two will wear the costs for so long as it is making them money to do so. There is no benefit to them if the milk industry dries up. There is benefit to them if they steal market share off one another. They’re targeting each other. Not the farmers. Obviously they want to cut down their overheads as much as possible – but it’s not a particularly sustainable business practice to be running your suppliers out of business in a price war. The whole idea of a loss leader is that they lose money there because nobody just goes to the Supermarket to buy milk, but they might pick one supermarket above the other if their milk is cheaper. It’s marketing. The money to do this probably comes out of a marketing budget.

If they figure out how much they’ll lose selling milk at below cost for a year (say 30c a bottle) and how much profit they’ll make per customer gained, across their whole basket or trolley of goods (say $50) then it’s a pretty simple question to answer… the idea that this will be passed on down the chain is a bit odd – especially since it’s only on their branded lines and the prices of the other, no doubt more popular milk (based on observation at the fridge in the supermarket) have not changed (as far as I know). This is just two companies trying to one up each other to get customers through the door. It’s marketing.

How to fight this battle
Calling giving the average Australian a bargain “un-Australian” is not a winsome PR strategy. It looks like whinging and whining. If the milk lobby really wants to fight against these chains, if they really want to hurt the supermarkets, they should team up with butchers and greengrocers and urge people not to boycott Coles and Woolies milk, but rather to embrace this as a chance to hit them in the hip pocket. If you want to punish them for being “Un-Australian” you should be encouraging people to snap up the cheap milk and buy nothing else from them in protest. The milk industry should embrace this as an opportunity for people to rediscover the joy of drinking milk. Start promoting making milkshakes at home. And then encourage people to get their veggies from a fruit market and their meat from a butcher – and see how long this lasts.

Don’t cry over spoilt milk

This revolutionary milk carton would prevent incidents like the one Ben reported last week. Off milk is the bane of any milk drinker’s existence – and the smell of sour milk is enough to produce a gag reflex. It’d be nice to not have to sniff the bottle wouldn’t it? Some sort of visual aid short of chunks floating on the surface would be nice. Perhaps even a carton that changes colour as the milk inside turns from the nectar of the cows into something more sinister.

This carton designed by Ko Yang should do just that.

Coffee and the environment

Here’s an interesting coffee article with the following environmental and economical message:

“Last year, Britons spent about £750 million on coffee, but only a small fraction of this on espressos. Think of the huge amount of money that would be saved if the majority of coffee-bar patrons switched to espressos from cappuccinos. The country’s milk bill would fall and its carbon footprint would shrink too.”

Not only is coffee an excessive drain on water stocks – milk is bad too. This is all very well – except the same writer also describes the cappuccino experience (amongst others – including the corretto – a shot with alcohol)

“There is no doubt that the most popular variant is the cappuccino (“little hood”), at its best a glorious drink consisting of equal parts espresso, milk and foam. The experience of consuming a perfectly made cappuccino is sensual to the point of decadence.”

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