Dairy UK boss tackling challenges

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Dairy UK’s chief executive Judith Bryans faces big challenges
Dairy UK’s chief executive Judith Bryans faces big challenges

Related tags Dairy uk Milk

Dr Judith Bryans is making her mark as Dairy UK’s chief executive, reports Nicholas Robinson

Key points

Great battles can make great heros and heroines, former US secretary of agriculture Ezra Taft Benson once said. Although Dr Judith Bryans became Dairy UK’s chief executive only 10 months ago, she has already embarked upon some big battles and appears to be on the fast track to dairy industry heroism.

So far, she has taken on what she calls the misinformed press, lobby groups and the government on a range of issues including health, scare stories and global competition.

At Dairy UK’s annual dinner earlier this year, the trade association’s chairman Billy Keane said Bryans was the best thing to have happened to the organisation, which represents Britain’s dairy supply chain, bringing together processors, dairy co-operatives, manufacturers, farmers and bottle milk buyers throughout the UK.

Perhaps Keane used too much hyperbole, but he was speaking to a distinguished audience, including the former environment secretary Owen Paterson; Muller’s and Arla's chief executives; and other dairy industry movers and shakers.

To add weight to Keane’s claim, Bryans has also – almost single-handedly – charmed many of the UK’s most influential politicians to speak more positively about consuming dairy. She’s done this in a bid to counter what she believes is wilfully false criticism from tabloid journalists.

Bryans’s drive to do battle comes from the threat posed by global competitors. “You need to be straightforward with people on these sorts of issues,”​ she says at Dairy UK’s London headquarters. “There’s no point in shrinking away from them because none of our competitors shrink away – we’ve got a great product and we should absolutely fight for it and stand up for ourselves.”

Bryans, who has a PhD in nutrition and was director of the Dairy Council for nine years before taking over at Dairy UK, empathises with consumers, who are often influenced by “ill informed press and policies”.​ Scare-stories are much easier for the consumer media to report on and are often sexier than the real issues, she adds. While she concedes the consumer press occasionally get it right, in general, she says, “consumer media is very frustrating”.

Concern over hormones (Return to top)

Recurring reports about hormones in milk leads Bryans to field plenty of calls to calm concerned consumers. “We will often get consumers ringing up and talking about it because they are worried,”​ she says. “What they don’t appreciate is that they are talking about the hormone called IGF1. But it is present in human breast milk and any protein that you eat including plant proteins!”

IGF1, explains Bryans, is a growth hormone and “we would be dead without it”.​ She cites it as yet another example of consumers being frightened by scare stories in the press. As she explains: “They seem to think that, when they drink a glass of milk, they’re getting a vast amount of IGF1, when actually you produce more of it in your saliva.”

Yet, it’s not only the consumers that are being mislead. Bryans believes some politicians are also being taken in by scare stories. They are bombarded by untrue messages from pressure groups and the media, she adds. “This is why I have to be quite forthright about the issues with them ​– there’s so much confusion.”

But Bryans accepts the industry has to take some responsibility for this confusion. “Maybe over the years we haven’t invested enough time to go out and explain to politicians that we need them to support us. We have the facts, so it is time to use them and give them to the MPs. Now is definitely our time to do this and we are going to do it,” ​she adds.

The dramatic fall in UK sales of dairy products makes the need for action by the industry even more urgent. In the family food survey published late last year by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the average Briton’s liquid milk consumption in 2012 was shown to be over 8% lower than at any time during the previous 10 years.

Whole milk consumption had decreased by 16.4% since 2011 and skimmed milk consumption by 5.5% over the same period. Semi-skimmed milk consumption, however, grew by 6.9% year-on-year and grew by 14.4% over 10 years. Even yogurt took a hit and decreased by 2.6% between 2011 and 2012, while cheese consumption also fell by 3.6% for the same period.

With figures such as these, it’s little wonder Bryans is ready to fight so ferociously for the sector she represents. “I’m passionate about what I do and the industry I work in,” ​she says. “And I will use whatever means I can to get what the industry needs to thrive.”

To ensure she is properly equipped to get what the industry wants, Bryans has reorganised staff at Dairy UK to make sure she has the best chance in any fight. Restructuring the team has taken a lot of time, she admits, but believes it will push the organisation forward.

A changing industry (Return to top)

Dairy UK is only a decade old and was founded by its previous director general Jim Begg, for whom Bryans expresses much respect. But, she also acknowledges the industry has changed a lot in 10 years, without the organisation necessarily following.

“He was fantastic and made a massive contribution to the industry,” ​she says. “He knew that the organisation, in order to represent the changed industry, needed to have a new person at the helm to drive it forward.”

In 10 years the UK’s dairy supply chain has undergone dramatic change. However, while many of the problems facing the sector remain, it is set to witness even more dramatic change in the years ahead as the EU removes milk production quotas for Member States.

“Now the battlegrounds have changed and we will soon be moving into an era that’s post-quota and out of an industry where people were negative​ [about the prospects of growth].

When milk quotas are abolished in April 2015, UK producers will no longer be constrained in what they can produce. Despite much talk in the dairy sector about quota removal, much still remains to be done to prepare for its full impact, Bryans warns.

“The rest of the world is setting out its stall – particularly Europe,”​ she adds. Other EU producers and processors are reviewing their markets, new product development (NPD) and infrastructure. But where does the UK stand? “In some ways we are a little bit behind,” ​she admits. “We need to push forward and we need to have a confident industry to do that.”​ And Bryans is convinced the UK dairy sector is strong enough to meet the challenges it faces.

In October next year, the UK will be hosting a Europe-wide dairy congress. “That’s because Europe is interested in what the UK is going to do post-quota, so it’s a good opportunity for us to showcase our progression,”​ say Bryans.

But much work remains to be done. For instance, she believes there is room for more NPD and, in particular, scope for using dairy proteins in healthy ageing products.

United Nations (Return to top)

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation’s decision to change its methodology for defining dairy protein will help with this, she predicts: “This means there will be a real difference between animal proteins and plant proteins, which will give dairy more of an opportunity in the market.”

Healthy ageing will be an area of growing interest not just for dairy, but for all functional foods, she claims. “The world’s population is not only growing, but also ageing so there are a lot of opportunities here for dairy.”

But for now, it’s time for more battle planning as Bryans’s attention focuses on the policy makers. More needs to be done to cut red tape and to ensure dairy is seen as a nutritious food, instead of something that just makes you fat, Bryans argues.

“Do I think the dairy industry is in a corner fighting?”​ she asks. “I don’t think the dairy industry ever sees itself as a victim. It’s a strong industry and has a lot to say for itself and always has and always will.”

Watch our video in which Bryans revealed Dairy UK’s plans​ to allow global manufacturers to join Dairy UK as associate members for the first time.

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UK Dairy Market Insights

Posted by Edel Ayres,

Opportunities exist for the development of more value added products in all categories of the dairy industry. Read more...http://buff.ly/XkhdYf

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