MILK: The Milk Marketing Board and the 'milk crisis'

The history of the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) starts in the 1930s but its legacy continues into contemporary debates around farming, food production and national commerce.

In October of 2014, twenty years after the closure of the MMB, UK dairy farmers and their supporters took to the streets to protest at the low price of milk to the consumer, compared to high production costs. Not only did these actions have an impact on supermarket executives but they raised the awareness of dairy production to the public, rehashing a debate that brought about the formation of the MMB in the first instance.

This online exhibition, complementing an exhibition on display at Dittons Library, tells the story of the MMB, bringing it up to the present day.

Milk Marketing Board meeting


In 1932 a Government commission was set up investigate the dairy industry and it decided that there was an urgent need for an organisation to stabilise the market. That organisation was the Milk Marketing Board. Set up in October 1933, the Board originally worked out of Millbank, London. In the late 1930s work began on a new building, large and open plan that could double up as a hospital during national emergencies. Located in Thames Ditton, this new headquarters was the home of the MMB for over 50 years.

A move to Thames Ditton

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Speaking in 1986, the MMB's Public Relations Officer - Mr. Chapman - described the company's move from central London to |Thames Ditton in 1939.

With the declaration of war, the new building was occupied in a hurry; filing cabinets that had once filled the Board's Millbank premises were piled into milk lorries and carted south to Thames Ditton. Anyone due to work in the new building was required to wear a hard hat when entering: construction work was still taking place, the steps leading into the entrances were not completed and a plank was the only way in.

Elmbridge Museum's collection includes a number of photographs from these early years. Below you can see images taken between 1938 and 1940. |Visi Visit our Collections page to explore more milk related objects from our archive.


Later developments

Increasingly throughout the post war years, consumer trends have changed the way milk is perceived and consumed. Supermarkets now sell more 'pintas' than the doorstep milky.

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The MMB, being responsible for 'marketing', had a responsibility to advertise producers' products to the public. Iconic advertising campaigns such as 'is your man getting enough?' and 'Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?' were commissioned by the Board to boost milk sales, and were very well received.


In 2014, twenty years after the MMB shut its doors, the media brought to public attention what they called a 'milk crisis'. Like the situation that spurred on the formation of the MMB back in the 1930s, the production of milk now - in the early twenty first century - greatly exceeds the demand for the product. With excessive production prices will fall. Many dairy farms have ceased producing due to financial losses year on year.

In 1995 there were 35,741 registered dairy farms in the UK. By the end of 2015 this number had dropped to 9,914.

Closure of J. Trigg and Son shop
The fate of J.Trigg & Son, a local dairy shop. It used to be more common than it is now for independent dairy shops to buy milk directly from dairies and sell it door to door. This photo was taken in 1987 after the closure of their Molesey Road shop


This timeline gives the dates of significant occurrences between the formation of the MMB and the present day. 

1882 – First dairy cooperative started in Denmark

6th October 1933 – First Milk Marketing Board meeting held.

1940 – Ministry of Food takes control of milk production and marketing due to WWII.

1942 – MMB becomes a direct purchaser of milk from farmers.

1944 – Becomes responsible for the development of artificial insemination.

1945 – Oversaw 3.75m school children and 4m under fives and expectant mothers’ daily milk allowance.

1953 – Complete control handed back to MMB.

1958 – First year of ‘The Milk Race’ – the MMB sponsorship of the Tour of Britain.

1962 – MMB used as a model for international cooperatives. Advisory boards made available to other countries and agricultural officials from India invited to London by the MMB.

1973 – UK joins EU.

Late 1970s – sales indicate that supermarkets are taking over from home delivery systems.

1987 – Dairy Crest made a separate company, detached from MMB.

1991 – John Gummer, Minister of Agriculture declares: “I remain committed to encouraging the industry to make progress for ending the MMB’s statutory monopoly”.

1993 – MMB’s sponsorship of the Tour of Britain ends. At 35 years, ‘The Milk Race’, as it became known, was the longest cycle sponsorship in the UK ever.

1st November 1994 – The MMB dissolves.

Summer 1996 – Dairy Crest floated on the UK stock market.

2000 – Milk Marque, the voluntary cooperative set up to replace the MMB disbands.

2012 – 1000s of farmers violently protest outside the EU headquarters in Brussels against low milk prices.

October 2012 – UK dairy farms march in protest against milk prices. Per litre, farmers lose on average 7p on every litre of milk produced.

August 2015 – Milk prices continue to fall. The ‘Milk Trolley Challenge’ and the ‘Milk Bucket Challenge’ – protests against milk prices – both make nation news.

September 2015 – Again, protests erupt in Brussels outside EU HQ.

February 2016 – ‘Milk’, the first exhibition exploring the MMB, opens at Dittons Library.