In the very first episode of Mad Men, a show which by all rights I should love because it is all about arch capitalism and bad behaviour and smoking and drinking and screwing too much (but yet I don’t, and this essay in the New York Review of Books does a better job than I could of articulating my objections), our anti-hero pitches his cigarette company client with the tag line, “It’s toasted.” Now, the joke is that every other smoke-roller’s leafs are toasted as well, but by highlighting this point, the Lucky Strike folk are able to pull ahead of the pack – so to speak – just as health concerns around smoking are hitting the press. As a set piece, it’s a clever idea that feeds into the conventional wisdom of the clever set that free will is an illusion and of course big corporations and their marketing henchmen are pulling the wool of false consciousness over the eyes of a public kept docile by fatty foods and plasma TVs.
But what if things went the other way? What if the little guys adopted Don Draper tactics? That’s just what’s happening in the Australian milk industry, which has lately been the scene of pitched price wars between small producers and the supermarkets. Cleverly, small dairy farmers have banded together to market their milk as “permeate-free”, permeate being a “natural milk waste produced in a separate cheese-making process after ultrafiltration” (yum!) added to the stuff to ensure consistency (and, no doubt, make the cow juice go farther). And this has got Big Milk off-side, according to the Weekend Australian:
Victorian dairy farmer Marian Macdonald yesterday accused small milk processors of unfairly damaging the reputation of milk and risking turning consumers away from a healthy and affordable family food staple in their quest for market share.
“This has been a morally corrupt debacle on so many levels,” Ms Macdonald said.
The reason, of course, that this is seen as “morally corrupt” is that those brands advertising their product as being “permeate-free” are gobbling up market share forcing, according to the same account, major supermarket brands to “drop permeate additives from their milk early this month.” But so what? It’s true, and if big bad advertising can be used by corporate giants, why not by small producers as well?
I’m agnostic on the subject of permeates, though in general I like to think the products I buy are not thinned out with the waste products of related processes. Call me crazy. In any case, the only supermarket milk that’s consumed anywhere close to straight out of the bottle here at Stately Prick Manor goes into morning coffees (all other dairy is consumed either in the form of heavy cream or cheese) and when I finally get around to purchasing an ice cream maker I’ve got a couple of lines on pure Jersey milk that will get reeled in. But I do have a quiet admiration for those who, instead of sniping from the sidelines and complaining that the competition is too big and powerful for them to have a go, decide to beat them at their own game.