I love going to supermarkets. While most people groan at the thought of togging out for the weekly shop, it’s something that I actually volunteer for, and then happily idle an hour away lingering over labels and lettuce.
That experience is only heightened on a trip abroad. In my case last week, that happened to be Bavaria in southern Germany.
Military jet training manoeuvres were a daily occurrence — that’s what a war in a country 750km away sounds and feels like.
So the Aldi dairy aisle with its familiar brands and price points was a sort of refuge from the global realities outside.
The sight of the Kerrygold 250g bricks of butter no matter where one travels is always reassuring. Even more so when they are selling away at 50pc more than the local equivalent.
That’s why the suits back in Dublin are still confident of doubling Kerrygold sales to €2bn.
But it was slightly disconcerting to see an obvious cut-price copy-cat selling for 20pc less than Kerrygold right beside it.
Isn’t is crazy how the Irish dairy industry can’t even coordinate on this single product to protect their shareholders’ (aka farmers’) interests?
It also feels like Kerrygold isn’t making a big enough play on the outdoor nature of Irish dairy production.
Almost every line of meat and dairy in the German Aldi had a traffic-light system called Haltungsform.
It ranks each product in four grades from red (1) to green (4) depending on whether the stock are housed outdoors, organic, etc.
It has forced even the Bavarian farmers, who always prided themselves on producing milk and meat from the most sustainable systems possible, to recommence grazing for their stock outdoors for at least few hours a day.
Despite this, it’s noticeable that the vast majority of lovely rolling pastures in the Alpine areas that specialise in organic dairy produce still have few, if any, fences.
Draw your own conclusions.
I didn’t see any sustainability rating on the Kerrygold pack bar a mention of ‘pasture’ milk.
The Ornua marketeers will point to the price premium as proof that the customer is still buying into our story.
But when I compare the Kerrygold packaging with the raft of product info available on the competition, I wonder if we are not missing a trick.
The German consumer is an important weather vane on which way the market is evolving.
It was noticeable, for example, that their eggs now proudly proclaim that they are ohne Kükentöten, which literally translates as ‘without killing chicks’.
I’ve always wondered how the general public accepted without as much as a peep the fact that billions of male layer chicks have been minced or gassed as day-olds.
When lined up against all the other supposed crimes perpetrated by modern farming systems, it must surely rank as one of the most heinous.
I can only assume that in the absence of any other way, the public were prepared to put up with it.
Until now, that is, because new technology using light spectrometry allows hatcheries to sex the eggs within four days of incubation.
Being able to achieve this by day six is important since scientists believe the chick is sentient by this stage of its development.
The fact that the Germans outlawed the slaughter of newborn male chicks this year has helped to accelerate the process and I’m sure we’ll see the same on Irish shelves soon.
It is likely to also reinvigorate the debate about the worthless male calves being produced by Ireland’s laying hen — the dairy sector.
If the egg sector could do it, consumers will naturally wonder why the dairy industry isn’t able to harness technology to also eliminate morally questionable practices.
Darragh McCullough runs a mixed farm enterprise in Meath, elmgrovefarm.ie