Milk: as far as nutrition goes, things don’t get much more fundamental. For a long time, fresh milk was regarded as something of a luxury in Asia, and when milk was called for, it was powdered or condensed milk, products designed to keep well in humid conditions. Milk powder took a beating in 2008 after reports of contamination with melamine, and the consumption of fresh milk was given a significant boost as a result.
According to a USDA report on the Taiwan dairy industry, the three main players in the Taiwan market are Wei Chuan (味全), Uni President (統一) and Kuang Chuan (光泉), which account for 70 percent of local domestic processing. These huge operations purchase their milk from an estimated 579 dairy operations around the country.
But Taiwan also has a number of independent dairy operations. One of these is the FourWays Dairy Farm (四方鮮乳牧場), which has earned a significant market presence with health conscious consumers after it was picked by the Homemaker’s Union and Foundation (主婦聯盟環境保護基金會), an environmental group that operates an influential food co-op, as its primary supplier of milk and dairy products in 2010.
Tastes and preferences vary, and it would be a rash soul who would claim that the milk from FourWays Ranch is superior to any other on the market, or indeed that milk from a single farm is somehow better than milk drawn from many farms. Even the founder of FourWays, Tsai Nan (蔡南), said that he regarded the standard of milk across the market in Taiwan as very high, due to stringent regulations and strictly enforced inspection. He hastened to add that FourWays has a number of important features that appeal to food conscious consumers.
“Compared to the big players, we are very small,” Tsai said, adding that he estimates that his company accounts for approximately 0.5 percent of milk production in Taiwan. Fourways raises all its own cattle and has its own pasture, and prides itself on being an operation that takes its milk from grass to cow to the end consumer, retaining control of the whole process from beginning to end.
“The big dairy operators collect their milk from dairies around the country,” Tsai said. “And while I do not claim that ours is the best milk available, we are definitely right there in the top 10 percent of producers. The milk at the big dairies gets mixed together — the good and the less good all together — and it is much more difficult to guarantee quality.”
FourWays has also gradually built up a network of milk deliveries to the home that are especially convenient and allows consumers to enjoy FourWays milk at its best and freshest. “For the big dairies, the work of milk collection, packaging and delivery necessarily takes a number of days,” Tsai said, “but I have my processing plant just five kilometers from the ranch, so we can deliver the milk to your home the day after milking. It doesn’t have to go through any distribution centers. It is direct to the home.”
Having drunk the milk on delivery, I found that it had a slightly different texture and flavor to Lin Feng Ying (林鳳營), my own mass-market milk of choice. I found this difference refreshing, but Tsai said that initially, he had considerable difficulty marketing his milk because of this difference. “Many people couldn’t accept our milk, and some even questioned its purity,” Tsai said of his early days of operation. “They said it tasted different from Lin Feng Ying, Taiwan’s top brand, so they thought there was something wrong with it. Being selected by the Homemaker’s Union was a huge help, giving us the endorsement we needed.”