Dairy production and skills that are firmly rooted in the land

A unique dairy géography

The diversity of dairy farmland
Highly diverse dairy farmland

From the coasts of Normandy to the Alps and the Loire Valley, every French region offers a different dairy landscape.

This variety of types of land is at the heart of what makes French dairy products so diverse and its industry unique.

An ideal climate
The French dairy sector has a strong ally in the country’s climate

France’s temperate, rainy climate is well suited to milk production since it favours the production of forage and grass.

Vast areas
Farmland dominates France.

Although forests cover one-third of the country, land used for farming crops or animals is predominant (19% grassland and 37% crops). This explains why dairy farms are practically independent in terms of producing their own cattle feed.

France has a farming potential that enables it to combine crops, rearing and forestry.



Dairy France
Milk production across virtually the entire country

Dairy farms are spread out across virtually the entire country: 80% of French departments produce milk.

Raw milk is a live, fragile product that cannot travel long distances. It must be processed within 72 hours in order to be conserved.

This is why dairy factories are located close to dairy farms.

The diversity of dairy farmland
Highly diverse dairy farmland
An ideal climate
The French dairy sector has a strong ally in the country’s climate
Vast areas
Farmland dominates France.
Dairy France
Milk production across virtually the entire country

Unrivalled expertise

Expertise handed down from ancestral traditions

Condisering the use of rennet to make cheese in the Middle Ages, the appearance of Reblochon during the Renaissance and the invention of whipped cream under Louis XIV, it is clear the French dairy expertise was not born yesterday!

Handed down from generation to generation, the techniques used for making dairy products are an integral part of the French dairy culture. This expertise is difficult to imitate, especially for products made from unpasteurized milk, which require very careful food safety management.

Expertise linked to the land

Each region has developed its own expertise for conserving or storing milk depending on the constraints of geography and climate. People adopted different strategies to suit their environment so that they could consume the ingredient at a later date.

For example, Bretons developed salted butter, since salt enabled butter to be kept longer. In the Alps, farmers processed milk on site since they were snowed in during the winter, and so they produced mature Alps cheese (big wheels of Comté and other varieties).

“Dairy France” is a reality, since the country produces more than 1,500 good, safe and renowned dairy products! It is difficult for any other country to reproduce such a wealth of dairy products.

An industry capable of satisfying global demand

Fast-growing global demand

  • Population growth
    > In 20 years, the world population has grown by 80 million inhabitants annually, representing a total increase of 1.6 billion inhabitants. 
    > Starting in 2020, this increase will reach 50 million inhabitants annually, bringing the global population to 9 billion by 2050.
    Population growth by 2050


  • Increasing demand for dairy products
    > Between 2000 and 2050: demand for dairy products is expected to double in emerging countries:

        - An increase of 45 kg to 78 kg per inhabitant annually 
        - +1.8% annually, compared to +0.2% for developing countries. 
    > In 2050: two-thirds of dairy product consumption will be concentrated in emerging countries:

    65% (680 million tonnes) vs. 35% (370 million tonnes) in developed countries                                       

    > An insufficient production capacity in emerging countries (due to the difficulty of accessing property and water) favours the growth of exports by producing countries.


    Cheese consumpition growth


A strong export business

After satisfying its domestic market, France exports a large share of its dairy production (40%). The dairy industry is well organized for exports, with solid assets for becoming a leading player, capable of ensuring a long-term supply.

Very successful dairy exports

4 out of

every 10 litres

of collected milk

are exported

€3.4 billion

trade surplus (2016)

in 10 years

€6.2 billion

French dairy products

exported (2016)

Export strengths

A very broad range,

covering every market segment

The excellent image

of French dairy products,

which are synonymous

with quality

A 100% French

raw material

An industry focused on innovation

A sector on the bleeding edge of technology

  • On the farm

    Milking machines

    In 2015, 7% of dairy farms were equipped with milking machines. This equipment enables milking to be fully computer-automated.

    The machine recognizes the udder of each cow arriving in the milking shed and can connect to it automatically. The robot frees the farmer from the constraint of milking at a set time every morning and evening.

    It also enables a very precise, customized monitoring of milk quality and animal health.


  • In the factory

    More and more industrial cheesemakers are automating repetitive tasks to improve productivity, safety and quality, while facilitating their work.

    For example, robots help to improve the precision of cheese cutting for a better yield.

    They are capable of carrying out many very different tasks with perfect reproducibility. These include maintaining large cheese moulds, handling racks in the maturing cellars, loading portions into vacuum packing machines, etc.




  • Research

    CNIEL research programmes

    CNIEL carries out many research projects for industry stakeholders.
    It develops tools and scientific methods for furthering the industry’s knowledge and improving food safety practices.




    Example of a research programme: limiting the risks of consumer allergies

    In companies that transform several types of milk (goat, sheep and cow), a very small amount of milk from one animal species can be mixed with another, despite rigorous cleaning processes.

    Some people are allergic to goat’s and/or sheep’s milk. This type of allergy is rare but serious.

    To avoid any risk of “accidents”, the dairy industry is working on a research project to develop a testing kit for detecting milk from small ruminants in cow’s milk.


Around three new dairy products à day in France


Innovation: main trends


Yoghurts/fermented milks and cheeses accounted for the most innovation worldwide in 2013 with between 4,650 and 5,050 new products. These have been the two most dynamic food sectors over the past four years.
In France, ultra-fresh products are leading the way with 585 new products in 2013, followed by cheeses (390), creams (40) butter (38) then milks and milk drinks (33).

Natural, authentic products are especially popular with consumers. In 2013, dairy products marketed as natural represented 23% of dairy product launches worldwide.

Dairy products promoting environmental consciousness increased by 32.8% in 2013. They represented 14% of dairy product launches worldwide in 2013.

There is also innovation in terms of product features and consumption. Dairy products promoting a health benefit increased by 16.2% in 2013.




Du beurre dans les épinards (“buttered spinach”)
(Crédit: Tania et Vincent / Cniel)



Dairy professions: tradition and technologies

A range of skills and expertise

While the French dairy industry draws on a solid tradition and strong historic roots, we should not forget its ability to innovate and adapt. Farming has undergone major change, and new professions have emerged.

An example is the development of substitute services for farmers who wish to go on holiday. There are also more and more advisers specializing in farm management, animal diets, veterinarian treatment, the environment, and so on. 

The dairy industry’s constant search for innovative products has led to an evolution in the machines and processes used, and therefore in people’s professions.

New types of jobs have been created to meet new logistical challenges; e.g. planners who manage product flows. 

The substitute cattle farmer, a new profession on the dairy farm

A wide variety of professions

From farming to logistics and milk processing, there are many complementary and passionately interesting professions.

Farming professions

Farm manager and cowherd

This multi-skilled person is in charge of the day-to-day running of the farm. Quality and food safety are his or her priorities.
They may be assisted by a cattle farmer, often employed by a local substitute farming service.

“I love being in contact with the animals. I treat the herd (belonging to my boss) like my own and I’m proud of it.”

Cédric, cowherd

Consulting and service professions

Consultants and other service providers support farmers in their projects. They have a good knowledge of herds and farm management.

Many specialities exist: farm building advisors, milk control technicians, farm management consultants, veterinarians, and so on.

“I’m here to talk with the farmer. I have to understand his needs. The aim is to design the best solutions – not just for him but with him.”
Farm building advisor

Industrial professions

R&D professions

The R&D team work in the laboratory to develop future products.

This profession combines creativity and the ability to consider consumers’ tastes, while respecting the raw material.

“We taste it, we feel it and we touch it. An attractive cheese product in our Western countries means producing a “yum” moment. It must be good.”


Patrice, R&D engineer

Processing professions

Milk arrives at the factory continually and requires constant attention. The production team control the different manufacturing stages and ensure product safety and quality.

Professions: lab assistant, product designer, cheese technician, maturing agent, etc.

“You need to be both methodical and creative. […] At the same time, we’re working with a live product, from milk to cheese. Even if we use machines, experience is indispensable.”
Michel, cheese technician

Schools for training in dairy professions


Many courses have been developed to train dairy professionals. From vocational certificates to engineering diplomas in agricultural, or higher technical qualifications in agriculture, more than 200 training courses are on offer!

In particular, specialist schools exist: six National Dairy Industry Schools (ENILs), which offer training courses at all levels for people planning to work in dairy processing.