Survey probes consumer knowledge of hay milk

Testing services provider TÜV SÜD has carried out a survey examining consumers’ knowledge of hay milk. The results show that consumers associate hay milk with either with no particular quality criteria, or sometimes with incorrect criteria.

Food retailers in southern Germany and Austria have included hay milk in their product ranges for some time. However, while the higher prices of hay milk products clearly indicate that it is a high-end food product, German buyers are not informed clearly about the differences in quality compared to conventional milk.

According to the survey, over 70% of consumers surveyed continue to buy conventional full-fat or skimmed milk. Dairy substitutes based on rice, oats or soy are only relevant for around 5% of consumers. In Germany, only about 2% of consumers buy hay milk. One-quarter of consumers surveyed indicated that they do not know about the special features offered by hay milk. Around 9% of respondents chose the option, “No comment.”

About 23% of the consumers interviewed know that the cows’ feed must come from traditional grass farming, with 5% stating that hay milk must be produced without the use of silage. Around 10% of consumers associate the name of “hay milk” with Austrian origin, and 18% with ecologically controlled production.

The difference between conventional cows’ milk and traditional hay milk lies in how the animals are fed. In conventional milk production, the cows are also fed fermented fodder (eg, corn silage), moist or wet hay, whereas fermented fodder is not used in grass-based dairy farming. By-products from distilleries, breweries or fruit pressing are prohibited in the production of hay milk. In spring and summer, cows are out on pasture grazing on herbs, grasses and leguminous plants. During the winter period they are exclusively fed on hay.

In addition to this, the animals may be fed bran or pellets with high mineral contents, eg, from sugar production, or protein feeds from cereal processing. Concentrated feed is allowed, but carefully regulated. In Germany and Austria, there are official organisations that take care of feeding and husbandry guidelines and monitoring in hay-milk dairy farming.

The green feeding of the animals means that hay milk production also affects the landscape, which plays a role for some consumers in their purchase decision.

Production of hay milk is a very traditional kind of dairy production. However, the name ‘hay milk’ was not protected until 2016. Since March 2016, with a transition period until March 2018, hay milk products that comply with the regulations of the official hay milk bodies have been able to gain the EU-wide “Traditional specialities guaranteed” label (abbreviated as “TSG”).

To ensure consumer expectations are fulfilled, here are the key facts of hay milk, according to the company:

  • Hay milk is not necessarily organic milk – Organic milk must fulfill many further criteria
  • Hay feeding affects the taste and composition of milk. For example, hay milk includes twice as many omega-3 fatty acids as standard milk
  • The TSG symbol stands for the traditional mode of production of hay milk, not the origin
  • The TSG symbol is easy to confuse with the label for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Consumers should take a close look at the labels given on the packaging.

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