Packed milk vs loose milk: A debate made relevant by the Government’s ban on the latter

Unless the packaged milk industry manages to develop the milk keeping in view the demand and requirements of all and sundry, the Punjab government may not be able to change the culture of loose fresh milk with that of packaged milk

packed milk

The Punjab Government’s decision to ban sale of loose milk from 2022 is indeed ‘better late than never’. But can the packed milk ensure the real taste of the milk and our age-old culture of eating ‘Malai’, a by-product of milk that can either be used directly or with Paratha.

Malai: An essential by product of loose milk

Malai can even be used for skin care by all skin types for the desired result. Unfortunately only fresh loose milk can give us the real taste and Malai which even the full cream packed milk cannot. So any brand of packaged milk which cannot fulfill these requirements will not be acceptable to Pakistani consumers.

Though the government is ready to facilitate the package milk producers, they must get ready to meet these challenges if they want to compete with retailers of fresh loose milk. Mere hygiene will not serve the purpose for we are a different breed and irrespective of social status we prefer to go for Javed’s Nehari and Waheed’s Kabab instead of any upscale highly expensive restaurant. In short for us taste is more important than ambience and environment.

We know that social determinants such as culture, family, peers and meal patterns influences eating habits. Studies have shown repeatedly that national cultural systems as well as individual cultures have direct bearing on the business. So it’s not all that easy to knock the traditional milkman out from the retail milk market with a notification.

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We have seen that despite years of massive campaign, the foreign investors have so far not been able to make even a little impact on the overall consumption pattern of loose milk. Ninety per cent people want to purchase fresh milk because they believe that packaged one is tasteless.

Those who buy milk from the milkman argue that though they are not satisfied with the quality of milk, the price and taste of this fresh milk is still better than the packaged one. Moreover, the ‘Malai’ they get from the loose fresh milk they cannot get from even the full cream packaged milk.

Evolution of packed milk

Though the packed milk industry has evolved and there are many players in the industry, their total share has yet to reach the double digit. A recent report by a multinational has predicted a 36 per cent growth in global milk consumption over the next decade.

According to the study, this growth would mainly occur in emerging markets of Asia: demand in India will increase by 120 per cent, in China by 78 percent, in Pakistan by 35 per cent and the rest of Asia by over 57 per cent. The report provides ample opportunities for Pakistan’s dairy industry domestically as for a massive growth but only if they can fulfill the taste and requirement of Pakistani milk consumers.

Besides taste the other factor which hinders the growth of packaged milk industry is of course price which is not reasonable if compared with loose milk available in every street corner. In a country where loose milk is considered as the purest form of milk despite all kinds of adulteration and 90 per cent of people still consume un-processed loose milk, will the Punjab Government be able to create awareness about the benefits of processed milk at a price much higher than the loose milk?

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It’s indeed a daunting task. Above all will our dairy industry be in a position to prepare themselves in a short span of two years to fulfill about 90 per cent increase in the demand of processed milk matching the cost of the loose milk.

Some aspects of the policy being considered by the government which include allowing a five-year business adjustment period once the new policy comes in force sounds pretty much convincing. The policy may also include labeling pasteurised milk in accordance with Punjab Pure Food Regulations 2018 and keeping pasteurised milk at 6 degrees Celsius till it reaches consumers.

In this regard Prof Dr Nevzat Artik of the Food Safety Institute, University of Ankara, who is also called the father of dairy development in Turkey suggested that if Pakistan had adopted the international dairy standards not only milk and milk production would improve, but wastage would have declined and the country would have become an exporting country in this sector.

Harms of loose milk

A report submitted by provincial authorities to Prime Minister Imran Khan has revealed that as much as 70 per cent of loose milk sold in urban Punjab contained traces of harmful chemicals and bacteria. Of the 601 samples of loose milk collected from Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi, 422 were deemed unfit for consumption upon testing and found to contain traces of harmful chemical compounds like formaldehyde, ammonium sulphate, hydrogen peroxide, urea and others found in detergents.

Formaldehyde, in particular, can cause stomach and heart problems and even blindness if ingested.  The water used to increase the volume of loose milk was also found to contain traces of various germs and bacteria, including coliforms, and chemical and organic pollutants.

Therefore, there is no denying of the fact that despite many odds and a severe retaliation from the shops selling loose milk, to ensure healthy national future strict measures has to be taken to eliminate sale of adulterated loose milk. Though Pakistan’s milk industry produces 54 billion litres every year, only less than10 per cent is sold in packaged form.

Packed milk was first introduced in Pakistan in 1981. Even after almost four years of aggressive campaign the packed milk failed even to make its presence felt. Even now though the major brands have managed to establish their presence in the market, a brute majority of consumers still believe that packed milk is not as healthy as loose fresh milk.

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The reason of such a limited share of the packed dairy is the fact that people still believe that the packed milk loses its nutritional values during its processing. Moreover, they believe that shelf life of a perishable product like milk should not exceed more than 48 hours.

Even in upscale localities of the most modern and literate city of Karachi, we see heavy rush in loose milk outlets, because in spite of massive publicity campaigns by the packed milk companies, they have not yet been able to woo even the upper class of the population.

Turkey banned sale of loose milk in 2008 and to make pasteurization of milk mandatory, it not only made investments in public sector but provided concessions to private sector milk producers. The steps resulted in a 90 cent increase in Turkey’s milk and milk by-product exports.

Pakistan being the fourth largest milk producing country produces 54 billion litres every year and according to household spending data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the average Pakistani household spends 9.5 per cent of its monthly consumption expenditures on milk and dairy products, the overwhelming bulk of which is spent on milk alone. In short every household spends approximately Rs3,373 per month on milk. But less than 10 per cent buy packed milk and in case of yoghurt their share is not more than two per cent.

Unless the packaged milk industry manages to develop the milk keeping in view the demand and requirements of all and sundry, the Punjab government may not be able to change the culture of loose fresh milk with that of packaged milk.

Khawaja Amer is a freelance journalist. He has worked in major international & national papers including Khaleej Times and The News International. He contributes frequently to Dawn and Express Tribune. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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