Why is an Ontario test run with 3-litre milk jugs so contentious?

Milk jugs

There are many mysteries surrounding the milk industry in Canada, the most pressing of which is our desire to sell the delicious dairy beverage in bags, and why Americans find that so odd.

But there's another container clash brewing, this one surrounding a 3-litre jug that is set to shake up the milk industry. Although why such a container would be so scandalous remains somewhat of a mystery.

The issue over a test run with 3-litre cartons in Mac's Convenience Stores was first reported in the Toronto Star on Monday, pitting the Dairy Farmers of Ontario against the Ontario Dairy Council in a debate that has been sent to the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal.

According to the newspaper, the two sides are battling over the appropriateness of the trial run, with the Ontario Dairy Council seemingly in favour of opening up the market to 3-litre milk containers immediately and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario concerned that the new jug would spell the end of 4-litre milk sales.

Dairy Farmers of Ontario communication manager Laural Adams told Yahoo Canada News, however, that they were not opposed to the the 3-litre jug in principle, but wanted to hold a trial run to determine whether the new size would improve the market.

"So far the only thing that has been approved is a 3-litre jug in a test market and not a 3-litre jug across the province," Adams said. "Our mandate is to develop the fluid milk market and so we really want to ensure this is something that meets with our mandate. The goal is growth."

Adams added that she couldn't say why the Ontario Dairy Council, which represents the province's milk producers, would oppose the trial. She would not say more, citing the impending quasi-judicial tribunal ruling.

The Ontario Dairy Council's Stacee Sokoloff refused to offer comment, also citing the impeding tribunal. She referred Yahoo Canada News back to statements offered to the Star.

The Ontario Dairy Council had told the newspaper that they were in favour of the new size, but dairy farmers were opposed to 3-litre containers because they are afraid consumers will opt to buy that size rather than the larger 4-litre option currently available in stores.

The Ontario Milk Act determines what size of milk containers are currently permitted and while 1-litre, 1.5-litre and 2-litre containers are allowed, 3-litre containers are oddly left off the list.

Milk can also be sold in a container that is four litres or larger, in increments of one litre. So basically, milk jugs are approved in any litre size except three.

Three-litre containers appear to be rather rare in other markets as well. They are currently available in Australia, though it does not appear that 4-litre containers are. Perhaps that supports the notion that 3-litre jugs would undermine their larger brethren.

Neither the Dairy Farmers of Ontario nor Ontario Dairy Council could or would explain to Yahoo Canada News why 3-litre jugs went out of favour in the first place. Perhaps it’s just one of those things, or perhaps there is merit to the idea that Canadian families really would only need to buy three litres at a time.

If that’s the case, introducing the option to grocery stores across the province might reduce the amount of milk people take home. It would also mean we’d have to re-imagine our current system of selling bagged milk four litres at a time.