Farm Produce Survey to MEYC parents – July 2013
In July 2013 we sent a survey out to the parents and staff at Madresfield Early Years Centre (MEYC) to assess what demand there would be for food produced on the farm. We have summarised the results of the survey below and put some comments on what influence the results have had on our future plans. It has been really helpful, thank you to all of you who took the trouble to fill it in.
Out of the 122 People who responded 109 suggested they would consider buying milk MEYC. This was much more positive than we anticipated and suggests there may be potential to retail milk at the centre.
Amongst the 112 potential milk buyers, cartons were considerably more popular than a vending machine, with only 34 people suggesting that they would buy milk if it was supplied in a vending machine. Unfortunately supplying milk in cartons requires considerable additional cost as a bottling machine would be needed.
As expected semi skimmed was the most popular followed by whole then skimmed, suggesting MEYC milk tastes are broadly in line with the national average. This suggests that a separator would also be required so that we could produce the different types of milk. Unfortunately only 14 people wanted natural milk which is the only milk type we could produce without incurring the cost of a separator.
If everyone buys the amount of milk they suggested then this would equate to approximately 420 litres per week during term time. If we assume a milk price of 70p/l is acceptable to all of the respondents then this would provide an additional margin of around £6,000 per year over what we would receive if the milk was sold wholesale. If we could have sold this volume as natural milk through a vending machine then this level of demand would make the scheme worthwhile. Unfortunately when we consider the cost of a pasteuriser, separator, bottling machine, packaging, labour and waste milk then sales at this level are not going to be profitable. However if we can find additional outlets to increase sales and the supermarkets become more restrained with their milk discounting, then this could be a worthwhile venture in the future. As a result we have decided not to progress with milk retailing at this point in time.
This was a very promising result suggesting that there would be 104 beef box customers at MEYC.
This was an interesting result as we had expected that the majority of customers would only be interested in prime beef. Being a dairy farm this is really a rather positive result, as we have a regular supply of cull cows. However we have never actually consumed on of our older cull cows as we and our butcher are rather sceptical about the quality of the meat. Older beef is generally tougher, and cull cows do not have much fat cover making it difficult to hang the meat to allow it to tenderise. However older meat should have a stronger flavour. As a result it is likely that virtually the whole cow would have to be minced or diced. If we have good demand from the prime beef animals then we intend to do a trial with a special “cull cow box” to see how this goes.
This was another very promising result showing that the majority of people would prefer to pay a bit extra to have a better quality product. Small scale beef production using a local butcher allows the meat to be hung for longer making this possible. We can also experiment with diets to try and perfect the quality further. We have decided to keep prices at the same level as the supermarket’s standard range but without their discount offers. We have used Tesco online prices and broadly matched our prices to theirs.
This result has been very useful. We had assumed that we would do 5kg, 10kg and 20kg boxes which are typical in farm meat box schemes, however this result has made us reconsider and we are instead going to offer a 2, 2.5 and 5kg box instead. This result has also suggested that MEYC parents would want approximately 420kg of beef per month or about 2 cows worth. This is very promising and suggests that a beef box scheme of at least one cow per month would be very well subscribed.
This result was useful in influencing our box contents. The majority of people would prefer to choose their own box composition, but 84% suggested they would still want boxes if they didn’t have choice. With box schemes it is essential to sell the entire cow for the scheme to be profitable and competitive with supermarket prices. However in order to accommodate as much choice as possible we have decided to offer two ranges, a family and a premium range. The family range is intended to appeal to a small family who want more budget cuts to make meals for young children and then the premium range with the more expensive cuts. We have also decided to keep approximately 15% of the meat back from the boxes to sell individually. This way, customers who are more particular about their cuts can supplement a smaller box on the day and effectively make up their own box. However if the beef is as popular as question 8 suggested, then they must get in quickly as it could well go quickly.
We put this question in to see if there may be potential to supply veal in the future. We are quite happy with the result which suggested potentially 50% of the 120 people surveyed would consider eating veal. We are very sympathetic to those respondents who feel veal is cruel and are well aware of the bad press which veal rightly received in the 1960’s-70’s here in the UK and until more recently in Europe due to the highly controversial practice of veal crates. However bull calves pose a real problem to the ethics of the dairy sector. Dairy breeds do not have the right genes to produce beef efficiently, and beef breeds don’t have the right genes to produce milk efficiently. We have to use dairy bulls on our cows in order to get dairy heifers to go into our herd. However 50% of these calves turn out to be bulls which sadly have no use without a veal industry. Last week we sold 3 dairy bull calves at 2 weeks old. We were paid £4 each, but had to pay £6 each for transport, making a £2 loss on top of the milk we had to feed them for two weeks. This is why most dairy farms dispatch their bull calves as soon as they are born. If a herd is shut down with TB then you can’t even pay people to take the calves away, so virtually all TB positive herds have to shoot their bull calves. Surely it is better for us to eat more veal as a nation and create a market so that these calves can live a good life for 6-8 months in nice big pens the same as other more productive calves. It is rare to hear people complain about lamb being cruel and they are the same age as veal calves. For those of you who haven’t tried veal, I tried some for the first time on holiday this summer and was really impressed, it’s definitely worth trying. Veal is something we will seriously look at in the future, but we need to find a big enough market before we can justify the expenditure on a milk mixing machine and more calf pens. We would need to be selling at least 5 calves per month for it to be worthwhile.
This result is very important to the success of a beef box scheme. With current legislation we would require a refrigerated vehicle if we were to deliver the boxes or have to rely on a specialist courier. This would have made the enterprise unprofitable.
Any other feedback?
A big thank you to all of you who gave some really positive support and really interesting ideas here. Some of the highlights included: ready meals; free range eggs; fromage frais; teaming up with veg producers for mixed boxes; pies pasties and burgers; a small farm shop.
We have decided that we will start selling farm produce beginning with beef boxes as this is the most straight forward and less risky diversification. We will use an abattoir in Cindeford, Gloucestershire and LDA meats in Ledbury for the butchering. We carried out a trial run with them in October which was very positive. We will be starting with only one cow per month, which will yield about 190kg of beef. Question 8 suggested a monthly demand of 420kg, but this could be more to do with the free ice cream we promised as a survey incentive! Rearing beef has an 18 month to 2 year delay, we started keeping beef calves back in January 2013 when we had the idea, so from autumn 2014 we will have regular supply of one prime beef animal per month, but until then we are relying on infertile dairy heifers to supply our prime beef which are more sporadic. We have been holding onto them over the last year and have 3 in the barn at the moment. After these have gone we may experiment with a cull cows until the autumn.
If the beef is a success we will certainly aim to expand into other produce and I will definitely be exploring some of the interesting ideas provided in the survey further. We have now built this website and included e-commerce facilities. We also have some new fridges on order for the ice cream shop ready for the first cow to come back on the 6th December.
Thank you again for your support.