Battle over milk containers goes sour

Ontario lobby groups debate over right to sell 3-litre jugs of milk

No date has been set for Ontario’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal to hear arguments in the ongoing tempest in a milk jug, said a spokesman for the Ontario Dairy Council.

The Council and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario are at odds over December’s decision by the province’s farm products marketing board to allow Mac’s Convenience Stores to proceed with a one-year pilot program to sell milk in three-litre jugs.

Presently under the Ontario Milk Act, milk is allowed to be sold in 500 ml, 1, 1.5, 2 or 4 litre containers. But not 3-litre jugs.

The Dairy Council would like to see 3-litre containers available all over Ontario, it has been reported.

A spokesman for the Council said they would not comment and no one was available from Mac’s to speak to the issue.

The Dairy Farmers oppose opening the market to 3-litre jugs, fearing consumers might choose that over the 4-litre bags, thereby cutting into milk sales.

They also fear grocers might kill their practice of using 4-litre jugs as a loss leader.

Canadian milk sales have fallen 2% in volume over the past year, says Nielsen, with no projected increase between now and 2018, according to a recent Euromonitor report.

“If you start messing with that 4-litre category, you start to run the risk that stores reconsider milk as a loss leader,” Al Mussell, senior research associate at Guelph’s George Morris Research Centre, told the Toronto Star this week. “And if they did something like that, it would make a very big difference to the dairy farmers.”

Some have sniped at the Dairy Farmers for interfering with consumers’ freedom of choice, but a spokesman for the Dairy Farmers said they were concerned that 3-litre jugs might increase milk price by volume. The majority of liquid milk sales in Ontario are said to be in 4-litre jugs.

And the farmers, they say, simply want to sell more milk at as low a price as possible.

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