Milk producers and the dairy industry will have to look to new and branded products if demand and indeed ex-farm milk prices are to improve in future years to come.

That was the stark warning from Nuffield Scholar, Tom Levitt, who said that consumption of milk per capita in the UK has fallen by a third since the 1970s and that the "heydays of fridges full of milk are long gone."

Speaking at the Semex Conference in Glasgow, on Tuesday, the research associate at the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, said that cow’s milk has long been a commodity, which coupled with the increasing interest in alternative forms of dairy, and a growing vegetarian lobby, means that the white stuff is now very much perceived as a “poor man’s food.”

“Milk doesn’t matter to consumers. People no longer talk about having milk for breakfast, they have cereal or porridge. Cow’s milk is also being left behind as diets become globalised and other food trends come along,” he said.

“People are far more interested in where food comes from, how it has been produced and what it does for them. They hear of how reducing the amount of meat and milk they consume, can reduce global warming, so cow’s milk no longer fits with their eating habits.

"There are also a huge range of milk alternatives now, which, despite their premium prices are growing in demand,” said Mr Levitt.

He added that today’s food is more about convenience, eating on the go and enjoyment and that 2litre cartons of milk are no longer desirable.

On a more positive note, the former journalist at the Guardian newspaper pointed out that with 80% of people consuming cow’s milk, the industry can still adapt, but to do so, it has to turn it’s product into a valuable one either through branding or product innovation.

“People will pay a bit extra for that something new – you only have to look at how 250ml of Kefir, a fermented milk drink that originated in Russia, sells for a minimum of £1 in the supermarkets and other products such as high protein quark, and coffee milks, attract premium prices.

“These are the products that are driving milk sales. Brands are the most successful way to sell produce – there are just not enough of them in the supermarkets yet.

“The industry has got to accept that it will not get people drinking any more milk. They only way to improve demand for cow's milk and sales is to add value with new products and innovation."

However, with dairy farmers and processors unable to find hard cash not only to develop new products but also market them to an industry which is constantly being bombarded with anti-farming, animal welfare rights campaigners, new money would need to be found.

It was a point highlighted by Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Foods, who said the huge investment required for such a project could be part funded by producers levy money?

“Farmers and processors have a responsibility to increase the value and the perception of milk. Cow's milk shouldn’t cost less than water or Coca Cola. We need to push the nutritional benefits of milk as a superfood.”

Mr Amirahmadi also made a call for a multi-million pound campaign to promote the dairy industry and the innovation of new products, which could perhaps be found from redirected levy money.

“Such a scheme, would not cost a few million – it would cost a signifcant amount of money, but, the rewards would be enormous,” he concluded.

Welsh beef farmer, Will Evans, also encouraged farmers to fight for their industry rather than lie down to the growing number of animal welfare activists who have been causing havoc at various livestock markets and abattoirs in recent weeks.

“Farmers are not great at conversing with consumers but most have a smart phone these days and it is a great way of contacting a huge number of people directly from your farm.

“People are fascinated by the day to day running of farms and the reasons for having big sheds and concrete. The UK dairy industry has a tremendous story to tell – we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world, so tell people about it,” said Mr Evans whose regular 'Rock and Roll' farming podcasts from his farm on the internet have proved a huge success over the past couple of years.

“Depite the problems we face every day, there is a phenomenal interest in agriculture. Farming is super hot, it’s cool and now is the time to capitalise on it,” he said.