© Cheick Saidou /French Ministry of Agriculture

Consuming differently and responsibly is possible. A new consumer brand proves it by offering a carton of milk whose specifications and price – that ensures a fair price is paid to the producers- are set by the consumer.

The principle is simple: Ask the consumer what type of quality they’re looking for in an agricultural product and how much they would be willing to pay for it. The project, called “C’est qui le patron?!” (Who’s the boss?!) has rapidly become a social phenomenon. This effort at transparency gives back added value to producers’ work and asks consumers to face up to their consumption choices.

This is what the carton of milk looks like

The initiative was launched in August through an online consultation with the public. Multiple different characteristics for the products were then decided with the help of the public: origin of the milk, pay for the producers, type of feed for the animals, the type of packaging, etc. In total, close to 8,000 people participated in deciding all of the criteria, choosing by majority the highest quality criteria proposed and, importantly, a more faire pay system for the producers. “But be careful, it is not charity: for an average of 4 euros (about $4.22) more per year, the consumer knows who is producing their milk and how they work. It’s a bilateral engagement,” said Nicolas Chabanne, the creator of this project.

The initiative gives 0,39 euros per liter (about 10 cents per gallon) of milk to producers, 25% more on average than they usually receive. These few cents make all the difference for milk producers. “This shows that it’s possible to do things differently,” said Martial Darbon, president of the cooperative of milk producers in the Bresse-Val-de-Saône area. “Today, we can count on a production of 800,000 liters ( about 210,000 gallons) per month that are paid for properly,” he added.

Chabanne, the brand’s creator, has had success with similarly innovative projects in the past. Le Petit Producteur (“the small producer”) aims to create a connection between producers and consumers by adding a small photo and the name of the farmer on agricultural products, and also allowed the farmers to add a personal touch in presenting their food. Les Gueules Cassées (loosely translated as “ugly,” or “disfigured faces”), Chabanne’s other project, fought against food waste by giving discounts on food that has cosmetic issues but is still perfectly edible – a strangely shaped carrot or an apple with an odd color would get you a discount, for example.