Blog: Dean BestAn eye-opening - and eye-watering - day on a French farm

Dean Best | 12 May 2010

As the UK woke up this morning on the first day of Nick n' Dave's leadership, just-food found itself just over the English Channel, on a farm in Normandy with French dairy co-op Isigny Sainte-Mère.

The dairy processor specialises in making cheese, butter and cream for the French and key European markets and has a growing business supplying milk powder for infant formula on sale in Asia.

After just a day studying the business, it seems much of Isigny's business, like the UK's new coalition government promises to be, is something of a balancing act.

Isigny's status as a co-op owned by farmers means it has a delicate strategy on milk prices. Farmers may want milk prices to be as healthy as possible but that obviously means pressure on raw-material costs for the co-op.

Deciding when to release cheese stocks, cheese like Camembert that can be aged for various lengths of time, takes deliberation. Selecting which export markets to target means hard choices over how to allocate finite resources.

As well as the farm visit, Isigny Sainte-Mere took us to its dairy sites, where we discussed issues ranging from recession, potential export growth - and the co-op's relationship with UK retailers in a climate when the French firm is battling pound/euro rate that makes exports from France across the Channel more expensive. More on that on just-food tomorrow.

This afternoon, we were also shown around Isigny Sainte-Mere's local site that houses the cellars for its Mimolette hard cheeses. The eye-watering aroma when entering the cellars, which house cheese that has matured for up two years, literally takes the breath away.

What price that, after the new UK coalition matures for two years, it will have made spending cuts that makes the country's eyes water? 


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