Introduction to Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group

Sainsbury’s and our milk story

Sainsbury’s and dairy go back a long way – to 1869, in fact, when John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann opened a shop on London’s Drury Lane selling butter, milk and eggs.

We’ve come a long way since that first pint in that first shop. We now have over 1200 stores and we buy and sell over 480 million litres of milk a year. The vast majority (over 97%) of by Sainsbury’s milk is provided by the 290 dairy farmers we work closely with in the Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group (SDDG). We have 281 farmers based in Great Britain, while *9 are based in Northern Ireland.

So what is the SDDG?

Tom King

The group supply milk only to Sainsbury’s. We set up the SDDG in 2007 to provide them with greater support in areas such as animal welfare and environmental stewardship. And, we also paid our dairy farmers a premium over the market price.

**Then in 2012 we launched the Cost of Production (COP) model to make sure our farmers continue to get a fair price for the milk they produce, and are able to invest in their businesses and become more sustainable for the future.

Overall we’ve invested over £50 million to support the dairy farmers we work with. The investment has included improvements to animal welfare and environmental standards to support our ‘Respect for our Environment’ value, and the investment is definitely working. Not only do our farmers get paid a fair price for the milk they produce, we’ve also helped them to achieve outstanding increases in environmental and animal welfare standards, including a 45% reduction in clinical mastitis and a 47% reduction in lameness.

As Ben Jack, a dairy farmer from Fife, says: “It makes us dairy farmers sustainable. To have high standards of welfare you have to be able to afford high standards, and the group helps us to achieve that.”

A partnership

The SDDG gives our farmers a voice, a place to discuss challenges and opportunities together so we can come up with solutions that work for everyone. A great example of this is our milk pricing model that makes sure that, even if the market price of milk drops, our farmers still get paid the agreed, fair price and aren’t out of pocket.

Read more about our milk pricing

Healthy Cows and Happy Farmers

Cows in field

***The health and welfare of all the cows and calves on each of our SDDG farms is the most important thing we need to get right in order to ensure we can deliver milk to our customers now and in the future. Sainsbury’s pay for annual vet visits from the independent Veterinary Consultants EBVC. This provides the farmers with the support they need to ensure they keep their animals as healthy as possible for the best possible milk production.

James Husband, Director at EBVC (Evidence Based Veterinary Consultancy) says: ‘The SDDG has involved an active dialogue between farmers and Sainsbury’s for 9 years and this has promoted trust and encouraged engagement of the farmers in a journey of improvement. Real, measurable positive changes in animal health and welfare have been achieved’.

We’re also there to help our farmers with:

  • Quality of milk paying for milk recording so farmers can monitor the quality of the milk they are producing.
  • Farmer development paying for farmers to attend Business Improvement Groups that allow them to review the costs of their business and understand how they can become more efficient. Topics include nutrition, calf management and grassland management to help our farmers produce more from less.
  • Offers & deals facilitating exclusive offers and deals on electricity, grass seed and soil testing.
  • Bonus & rewards bonus paid to our farmers to reward them for higher animal welfare initiatives.
  • Funding for research & development projects including a study into fertility and heat detection with our veterinary consultant, EBVC.
  • Quarterly meetings held with our steering group farmers who represent the rest of the SDDG to discuss challenges facing the industry.
  • Annual meeting held with all of our farmers.
  • Calf coats provided at cost price to help keep the calves warm in the winter because no one likes to be chilly. By keeping calves warm, they can use more energy for growth.

Sainsbury's calf coats

Explore the Sainsbury’s Dairy Development timeline


*Our 9 Northern Ireland farmers are the only SDDG members that are part of a Co-Operative so don’t receive the COP price. They do get the same benefits that the other members of the SDDG get, including vet visits and milk recordings. And they get a bonus for hitting high health and welfare standards.

**97% of our By Sainsbury’s fresh milk comes from the farmers in our Dairy Development group. We always try to buy all of the milk that our farmers produce, but the amount of milk a cow produces is not the same throughout the year. At certain points in the year (particularly in the winter), our farmers don’t produce enough milk so we need to source other milk from other farms. In spring/summer when production is high, we always buy as much milk as we need to meet our customers’ demand.

***Our cream, filtered milk, butter and milk for cheese are not sourced through the SDDG, although they are UK sourced.