Supporting the dairy sector through networking and innovation

Press/Media: Expert Comment


NORTHERN Ireland dairy produce is among the best in the world and is a key sector within our agri-food industry. The quality and variety of our dairy-based products from liquid and powdered milk to cheese and butter is outstanding, as well as award-winning. Our grass-fed herds are what set us apart to deliver on products that are natural, creamy and full of flavour. Despite these strong credentials, the dairy industry isn’t without its challenges, as discussed by Professor Barry Quinn from Ulster University, “the long-term impact of Brexit, and its implications for the dairy supply chain, coupled with the issue of growing consumer demand for plant-based alternatives to dairy products has highlighted the need for the sector to develop new sustainable business models for uncertain conditions”. In its simplest form a business model describes the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value. However, to develop a sustainable business model Dr Kristel Miller, from Ulster University, explains that “an organisation needs to consider value in terms of not only economic value but seek to embed environmental and social value throughout their business model. What’s most important here is that as a producer you strike a balance between all three”. In describing each type of value, Dr Miller stated: “Whilst economic value is imperative to ensure business viability, businesses need to consider the positive benefits for the environment, for example, efficient resource utilisation or changing processes to limit pollution alongside the social value it can represent, for example, where considerations are given to improve human well-being and growth of society through actions such as community development initiatives.” Taking time to determine how best to capture this value within your business model and aligning this to what consumers value can offer insight into new opportunities for diversification and new product development within the dairy sector. Current trends shaping the dairy drinks category, as reported by Mintel (2021), include: n Animal welfare claims relating to how the cows have been reared, the production process, grazing time and their facilities are becoming popular as a way of reassuring consumers that the animals are being cared for. For example, Mila semi-skimmed haymilk from Alto Adige describe on pack how the product is made with milk from cows that forage on the fresh alpine grass, wildflowers and hay. n Immunity boosting and gut health products have continued to grow in popularity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic offering cultured dairy products a real opportunity for growth in this sector. Examples include Amul Ashwagandha milk made with Ayurvedic botanicals that claims to build immunity as well as reduce joint pain; Vinamilk Bird’s Nest UHT milk which has been formulated using bird’s nest essence (a concentrated health booster) that is rich in selenium and vitamins A, D3 and K2; and Hertiage Tulsi Milk made with holy basil which not only increases immunity but claims to benefits heart health too. n High protein claims continue to remain popular among European consumers with 82 per cent of adults deeming yoghurt drinks as a good pre/post workout and recovery snack (Mintel, 2021). Recent innovations within this category include Skyr tropical fruit yoghurt drink containing 23g of protein and Tine YT Natural protein milk with 20g protein, claiming to help maintain muscle mass. The cheese category has also faced similar trends with consumers demanding brands to act more sustainably and to focus on improving the health credentials of cheese. Some exciting new cheese products have been launched onto the global marketplace in the past 12 months, for example, Japanese brand QBB has developed a smoked cheese snack combining almonds and cashew nuts to eat with beer while for vegan lovers Boursin brand launched a dairy-free garlic and herb spread into the US market. Other innovations within this category have focused on driving sustainability through responsible packaging solutions. For example, Cathedral City established a cheese recycling programme which “will allow cheese producers to receive any flexible plastic cheese packaging from any brand or supermarket”. If you are a dairy producer and would like to know more about your how innovation can help to shape your business, then we would welcome you to join our collaborative network. The DEX (Dairy Evolution NeXt) network is managed by Ulster University, University College Cork, Exeter University and Dundalk Institute of Technology and funded by ESRC/ IRC. The network seeks to bring together academics, industry and policy stakeholders to co-create priority research themes and to inform innovative solutions relating to the dairy industry. Please contact Professor Barry Quinn ( or Dr Kristel Miller ( n If you would be interested in study that supports your business, Ulster University Business School has recently launched two programmes, a Higher-Level Apprenticeship in MSc Food Design and Innovation and an Advanced Certificate in Agri-Food Leadership. n For programme enquiries contact Dr Lynsey Hollywood (l.hollywood@ulster.

Period8 Jul 2021

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleFarm Week
    Degree of recognitionRegional
    Media name/outletIrish News Ltd
    Media typePrint
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Producer/AuthorDr L Hollywood
    PersonsLynsey Elizabeth Hollywood