Recent reports of the difficulties facing Britain’s milk producers have prompted Ronnie Cohen to look into the muddle sorrounding retail packaging and pricing of all types of milk.
Of all the drinks in any British supermarket or convenience store, the only product where you are likely to find the word “pint” or “pints” is on milk. In the drinks market, milk is something of an anomaly. Whereas almost all other drinks are labelled in metric units and almost all are sold in rational metric sizes, milk is sold in a mixture of litre-based and pint-based sizes. Even on the label of the odd pint-based cider or beer bottle, you are only likely to see 568 millilitres shown on the label without any imperial units shown alongside. It is hard to think of any other product that symbolises the British measurement mess more than milk, where you have two competing systems.
I recently looked at the state of the current milk market by visiting the ten leading British supermarkets. I went to Aldi, Asda, Budgens, Co-operative Food, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose and recorded the milk products they sell. I present my findings here.
Asda, Co-operative Food, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose all sell own-brand milk in 1, 2, 4 and 6 pint formats. Marks & Spencer sells own-brand milk in 1, 2 and 4 pint formats. Waitrose also sells the “Duchy Originals from Waitrose” brand in 1, 2 and 4 pint formats. Of the supermarkets that do not have their own-brand milk, Aldi sells Cowbelle milk in 1, 2, 4 and 6 pint formats, Budgens sells Supervalu milk in 1, 2, 4 and 6 pint formats and Lidl sells Morning Fresh British milk in 2, 4 and 6 pint formats. These are the main independent brands sold in imperial sizes.
However, a considerable number of own-brand milk products, including regular refrigerated milk products, and own-brand milk substitute products in supermarkets come in rational metric sizes. I have seen the following products on supermarket shelves:
- Asda Fresher for Longer – 2 L
- Asda Dairy Free Soya – 1 L
- Asda Long Life – 500 mL, 1 L
- Co-operative Food Flavoured Milk – 1 L
- Co-operative Food UHT Milk (long life) – 1 L
- M&S British Goat’s Milk – 1 L
- M&S Flavoured Milk – 1 L
- M&S Lactose Free Drink – 1 L
- M&S Long Life Milk – 1 L
- M&S Made Without Dairy Almond Drink – 1 L
- M&S Made Without Dairy Coconut Drink – 1 L
- M&S Made Without Dairy Oat Drink – 1 L
- M&S Made Without Dairy Rice Drink – 1 L
- M&S Made Without Dairy Soya Drink – 1 L
- Morrisons British Long Life Milk – 500 mL, 1 L
- Morrisons Soya Drink – 1 L
- Morrisons UHT Soya – 1 L
- Sainsbury’s Basics (long life) – 1 L
- Sainsbury’s Basics Dried Milk Powder – 400 g
- Sainsbury’s Devonshire Dairy (long life) – 500 mL, 1 L
- Sainsbury’s Flavoured Milk – 1 L
- Sainsbury’s Soya (long life) – 1 L
- Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Milk – 750 mL
- Tesco British Milk (long life) – 500 mL, 1 L
- Tesco Everyday Value UHT (long life) – 1 L
- Tesco Everyday Value UHT Soya (long life) – 1 L
- Tesco Finest Milk – 1 L
- Tesco Pure – 1 L, 2 L
- Tesco Soya (long life) – 1 L
- Waitrose Flavoured Milk – 1 L
- Waitrose Long Life Milk – 500 mL, 1 L
- Waitrose Organic Soya – 1 L
Exceptions are some dried milk products that come in odd metric sizes, including Tesco Everyday Dried Skimmed Milk (454 g), Co-operative Food Dried Skimmed Milk (340 g) and Tesco Instant Dried Skimmed Milk (340 g). Tesco Everyday Dried Skimmed Milk showed 454 g, a pound-based size with no imperial conversion.
Independent brands, flavoured milk, milk substitutes and long-life formats sold by British supermarkets are overwhelmingly metric and their most common sizes are 500 millilitres, 1 litre and 2 litres. Few of them come in pint-based sizes. The one pint-based size I saw in supermarkets that I have not already mentioned is Manor Farm Organic, which comes in a 1-pint format.
Interestingly, some brands of milk (e.g. Freshways, Watsons) sold by small independent stores come in 1-pint, 1-litre and 2-litre sizes.
The market share of doorstep milk continues to decline. It was 4.3% in 2012, 3.9% in 2013 and just 3.4% in 2014.
Market shares for different sizes of milk can be seen in the following image (apologies for the image size and blurring):
The image shows that rational litre-based sizes of milk make up around a quarter of milk sales.
If you looking for value for money for milk, it is quite challenging to compare prices of litre-based and pint-based sizes. Unit pricing helps where it is available but it is not always easy to distinguish between 1-litre and 2-pint bottles or between 2-litre and 4-pint bottles without looking at the labels because their sizes are so similar. However, unlike wine, there is no requirement to sell milk in rational metric sizes so we have ended up in a situation where we find the following common sizes of milk:
- 500 mL
- 568 mL
- 1 L
- 1.136 L
- 2 L
- 2.272 L
- 3.408 L
It might look odd to tourists visiting the UK who are unfamiliar with the British measurement muddle. Nothing seems to illustrate this better than the retail sale of milk.