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Arla goes online to counter threat to dairy sector’s future

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Arla Foods has set up a special unit to ‘fight dairy’s corner’ in the online world, a senior executive told delegates at the World Dairy Summit in Belfast today (Oct 31).

 The role of Arla’s Dairy Debate Unit is to build a positive presence on social media to anti-dairy messages from vegans and the promoters of dairy substitutes. It follows a stark warning at the conference by Arla UK chief executive Tomas Pietrangeli.

Dairy faces an “existential threat” to its future, he warned delegates.

“People are confused about the health benefits of dairy,” he said, “and dairy intolerance. We see this across Europe and it will spread in turn across the world.

“We cannot avoid the signs of an emerging crisis, when 24% of people in the UK, for example, say they are cutting down on dairy and 46% of 16-24 year-olds claim they have an intolerance to dairy.

“I believe we are facing an existential threat to our industry from increasingly anti-dairy messages that are hitting a raw nerve.”

“The vegan lobby is out to get dairy and are using social media to get their message across. Young women see dairy as out of date, industrial and not for them.

“If we are going to reconnect with consumers we need to change the way we engage with them.”

'The dairy industry is losing the online war against those with an anti-dairy message'

The dairy industry is “losing the online war” Arla executive Hanne Sondergaard later told delegates.

The anti-dairy enemy was going unchallenged on social media. “We’re leaving the space online for them to play,” she said. “We need to start participating in the debate as companies.”

Arla had already got to work with its Dairy Debate Unit: it was now time for others to step up.

“If we are going to make a difference we are all going to have to do this,” Sondergaard urged delegates.

Arla had been accused of undermining dairy with its launch a few years ago of its ‘Lacto-free’ offering, she said. But the product had been launched to engage with an evolving market. Lacto-free was gaining sales at a rate of 30% - matching the growth of the dairy substitutes market.

The growth of the substitutes market, however, is a warning in itself to the dairy industry, IEG Vu believes. The industry has to engage with young consumers and answer their concerns – or risk continuing to lose their trust … and their key role as consumers.

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