More than half the people asked in a recent ICM Poll said they would prefer to buy locally produced dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, rather than big brands. Around 80 per cent said they preferred to buy British milk.
The poll, commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association, gives a confidence boost to Britain's dairy industry as farmers and processors struggle to make profits and imports of added value dairy products increase.
The result also continues an uncomfortable period for dairy firm Arla Foods UK, which imports its high-selling Anchor butter brand from New Zealand.
Rival firm Dairy Crest recently launched adverts criticising Arla for shipping Anchor 11,000 miles when its own Country Life butter was made in Britain. The ads got support from the UK National Farmers' Union (NFU).
Public support for local dairy produce in the ICM poll appeared to be driven by concern for British farmers.
More than two thirds said the countryside would be worse off without the dairy sector, while 85 per cent said dairy farmers could not be expected to compete if supermarkets continued to cut the price of milk.
Farmgate milk prices in Britain average around 18p per litre, the lowest in Western Europe. Several dairy firms have cut farmgate prices further this year in an attempt to cope with soaring input costs and supermarket price pressure.
NFU officials have repeatedly warned milk producers will be forced out of business if the trend continues. "The main message from the NFU was that there is clear evidence of abuse of power within the supply chain and that the major retailers are in a dominant position," said NFU director general, Richard MacDonald, recently to a Competition Commission panel investigating the UK grocery chain.
Low earnings throughout the dairy sector has also left less money available to develop added value products that can compete with those of foreign firms.
Britain's dairy trade deficit jumped up 20 per cent in 2005 to £893m, economists at the UK Milk Development Council warned recently. They said one example of the problem was that Britain continued to export butterfat as low value cream and then import expensive butter brands, such as Lurpak or Anchor.
David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said farmers and companies should be encouraged by consumer support for local products in the ICM poll.
He admitted the situation was still tough, however. "What people say in surveys compared to how they spend their money in the supermarket or corner shop can be quite different things, so let's hope their intentions are put into action."
Rising demand for locally sourced food in the UK is shown by the rapid growth of farmers' markets over the last few years. There were 550 markets operating last year, making a combined £220m in sales, according to organic food promoters the Soil Association.