Milk in a muddle

Recent reports of the difficulties facing Britain’s milk producers have prompted Ronnie Cohen to look into the muddle sorrounding retail packaging and pricing of all types of milk.

Of all the drinks in any British supermarket or convenience store, the only product where you are likely to find the word “pint” or “pints” is on milk. In the drinks market, milk is something of an anomaly. Whereas almost all other drinks are labelled in metric units and almost all are sold in rational metric sizes, milk is sold in a mixture of litre-based and pint-based sizes. Even on the label of the odd pint-based cider or beer bottle, you are only likely to see 568 millilitres shown on the label without any imperial units shown alongside. It is hard to think of any other product that symbolises the British measurement mess more than milk, where you have two competing systems.

milk from Tesco
milk from Tesco

I recently looked at the state of the current milk market by visiting the ten leading British supermarkets. I went to Aldi, Asda, Budgens, Co-operative Food, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose and recorded the milk products they sell. I present my findings here.

Asda, Co-operative Food, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose all sell own-brand milk in 1, 2, 4 and 6 pint formats. Marks & Spencer sells own-brand milk in 1, 2 and 4 pint formats. Waitrose also sells the “Duchy Originals from Waitrose” brand in 1, 2 and 4 pint formats. Of the supermarkets that do not have their own-brand milk, Aldi sells Cowbelle milk in 1, 2, 4 and 6 pint formats, Budgens sells Supervalu milk in 1, 2, 4 and 6 pint formats and Lidl sells Morning Fresh British milk in 2, 4 and 6 pint formats. These are the main independent brands sold in imperial sizes.

However, a considerable number of own-brand milk products, including regular refrigerated milk products, and own-brand milk substitute products in supermarkets come in rational metric sizes. I have seen the following products on supermarket shelves:

  • Asda Fresher for Longer – 2 L
  • Asda Dairy Free Soya – 1 L
  • Asda Long Life – 500 mL, 1 L
  • Co-operative Food Flavoured Milk – 1 L
  • Co-operative Food UHT Milk (long life) – 1 L
  • M&S British Goat’s Milk – 1 L
  • M&S Flavoured Milk – 1 L
  • M&S Lactose Free Drink – 1 L
  • M&S Long Life Milk – 1 L
  • M&S Made Without Dairy Almond Drink – 1 L
  • M&S Made Without Dairy Coconut Drink – 1 L
  • M&S Made Without Dairy Oat Drink – 1 L
  • M&S Made Without Dairy Rice Drink – 1 L
  • M&S Made Without Dairy Soya Drink – 1 L
  • Morrisons British Long Life Milk – 500 mL, 1 L
  • Morrisons Soya Drink – 1 L
  • Morrisons UHT Soya – 1 L
  • Sainsbury’s Basics (long life) – 1 L
  • Sainsbury’s Basics Dried Milk Powder – 400 g
  • Sainsbury’s Devonshire Dairy (long life) – 500 mL, 1 L
  • Sainsbury’s Flavoured Milk – 1 L
  • Sainsbury’s Soya (long life) – 1 L
  • Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Milk – 750 mL
  • Tesco British Milk (long life) – 500 mL, 1 L
  • Tesco Everyday Value UHT (long life) – 1 L
  • Tesco Everyday Value UHT Soya (long life) – 1 L
  • Tesco Finest Milk – 1 L
  • Tesco Pure – 1 L, 2 L
  • Tesco Soya (long life) – 1 L
  • Waitrose Flavoured Milk – 1 L
  • Waitrose Long Life Milk – 500 mL, 1 L
  • Waitrose Organic Soya – 1 L

Exceptions are some dried milk products that come in odd metric sizes, including Tesco Everyday Dried Skimmed Milk (454 g), Co-operative Food Dried Skimmed Milk (340 g) and Tesco Instant Dried Skimmed Milk (340 g). Tesco Everyday Dried Skimmed Milk showed 454 g, a pound-based size with no imperial conversion.

Independent brands, flavoured milk, milk substitutes and long-life formats sold by British supermarkets are overwhelmingly metric and their most common sizes are 500 millilitres, 1 litre and 2 litres. Few of them come in pint-based sizes. The one pint-based size I saw in supermarkets that I have not already mentioned is Manor Farm Organic, which comes in a 1-pint format.

Interestingly, some brands of milk (e.g. Freshways, Watsons) sold by small independent stores come in 1-pint, 1-litre and 2-litre sizes.

The market share of doorstep milk continues to decline. It was 4.3% in 2012, 3.9% in 2013 and just 3.4% in 2014.

Market shares for different sizes of milk can be seen in the following image (apologies for the image size and blurring):


Sources: – Dairy Statistics 2012.pdf and

The image shows that rational litre-based sizes of milk make up around a quarter of milk sales.

If you looking for value for money for milk, it is quite challenging to compare prices of litre-based and pint-based sizes. Unit pricing helps where it is available but it is not always easy to distinguish between 1-litre and 2-pint bottles or between 2-litre and 4-pint bottles without looking at the labels because their sizes are so similar. However, unlike wine, there is no requirement to sell milk in rational metric sizes so we have ended up in a situation where we find the following common sizes of milk:

  • 500 mL
  • 568 mL
  • 1 L
  • 1.136 L
  • 2 L
  • 2.272 L
  • 3.408 L

It might look odd to tourists visiting the UK who are unfamiliar with the British measurement muddle. Nothing seems to illustrate this better than the retail sale of milk.

40 thoughts on “Milk in a muddle”

  1. This is a very good, bad example of the pitfalls of allowing a very simple concession.
    The concession, as most here would know, was to allow doorstep milk, sold in RETURNABLE bottles to continue to be sold in pint bottles. The logic for this was simply that we did not have to wastefully dump millions of 1 pint bottles and replace them with 500 ml bottles. Much the same could perhaps be said for pint beer glasses.
    What a stupid mess this has produced.
    But even that does not really explain why supermarket (cows) milk is packaged in pints when just about everything else is in litres. There is still no legal reason why lemonade and mineral water should not be packaged in pints, so why just milk?
    It makes no more sense to me than anything else to do with hanging on to some daft non-system, like my favourite hate, the TV screen sizes.


  2. Milk sales are, as demonstrated, an absolute mess. I can’t help but feel supermarkets actually quite like this mess because it makes price comparison harder.

    However, what I’m most interested in is what happens at the “back end”. I suspect farmers usually store their milk in metric tanks, they sell it to a middle layer (co-operatives etc.) in metric and supermarkets buy them in metric from the wholesalers. I’d like to see an invoice a farmer sends to be paid for his/her milk, I bet it states milk sold in litres.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s fairly similar to the building construction industry (which is regulated in metric, designs in metric, constructs in metric using metric materials) where everything is done in metric except for the bit where an estate agent brings it to the market, only for the buyer of the building to decorate and plan it in metric again. It’s essentially only one part of the chain that still clings to imperial.


  3. Apart from anything else, just how practical is it to use these monster containers of 2.2 and 3.4 litres? I do not normally handle anything bigger than a one-litre carton and even that is not completely safe from ‘crumpling’ once the contents start to empty out. How easily do the oversized containers fit into a fridge? Unless you drink milk as a food, I cannot see why you would want so much milk open (and deteriorating) in your fridge at any one time. The odd metric sizes are the result of eliminating prescribed package sizes and allowing a free-for-all. Even if producers wish to go with the monster sizes, it would make much more sense to offer them in round metric numbers for ease of price comparison (to calculate how much per litre). Given that everything upstream in dairy farming is calculated and priced in litres, it seems senseless to add additional cost and to reduce price transparency by packing in pint-based containers at the retail end.


  4. The UK could easily follow the Canadian example. There all cartons of milk (and other dairy products) have been solely metric for nearly 40 years (40 years!). Cartons are generally 500 mL, 1 L and 2 L. The returnable plastic milk jugs (not sure if they still use those) are 4 L. And that’s it. Simple.


  5. I only buy milk sold in metric containers, usually Cravendale by Arla. Ok it’s more expensive unless on a promotion offer but gives me the satisfaction of moving forward with metric!


  6. I have written to supermarkets on this question. They still maintain that milk must be comparable with doorstep sizes, so it’s easiest for the consumer in pints. They also made the point that they’d have to redesign the packaging to go metric. Three redesigns later, they’re still in pint sizes. I made the point that their main competition is with convenience stores, where the bottles are mainly 2 litres, but that went unanswered.
    My local Morrisons used to sell their own-brand 4-pint size alongside a branded 2 litre size. The branded product was cheaper according to the unit price, but the offers on 2-for-£3 made the own-brand cheaper from time to time.
    I don’t think it’s an attempt to deceive. I think it’s just general British measurement-incompetence. (A condition that I’ve recently observed is getting more, not less severe in this little island nation.)


  7. @ Jake
    I also question the practicality of the larger bottles. I bought some 2.2 L ones as I wanted to re-use the containers. I ended up decanting them into the 1.136 L bottles for reasons of ease of use. Apparently there are a lot of problems with the larger ones even before they leave the store.
    I think ‘prescribed sizes’ may well be the problem, not a solution, as fixed pints would have been the prescribed packaging and there was no way they were going to change just to make life easier. The average Brit seems to love doing everything the hard way, finding an easier way is for wimps I guess.


  8. There appears to be a muddle in the statistics. In comparing the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 statistics it seems clear that the 4 pint container size has gone from 46.7% of the market in 2012 to 51.9% in 2015. The 6 pint container size went from 8.2% to 9.3%. However, the 1 and 2 litre containers went from 24.4% of the market in 2012 (and close to that percentage in 2013 and 2014) to 13.9% in 2015!

    How come? The arrangement of container sizes changed in 2015 compared with the three previous years, and when you compare the figures in the first and third rows in both tables, it goes from 24.4% in 2012 to 22.9% in 2015, a far less precipitate decline. I suspect that there may be an error in the statistics.

    More milk is being sold in the larger sizes and less in the smaller sizes. These, whether pint or litre, fell from 42.8% of sales in 2012 to 36.8% in 2015. This could be partly because it can be more economical to buy milk in larger containers.


  9. This annoys me as well because it’s an absolute pain to have to read all the “xxx per 100ml” labels to understand which product is offering the best value.


  10. Let’s be perfectly clear about the Canadian “example.”. Yeah, they’re metric in milk, roads, and temperature. Their railroads are Imperial. Their vital statistics. Their sports, their pools, their HVAC. They drink canned beer 12 fl. oz. at a time. They drink bottles 12 Imperial fluid ounces at a time. They’re not metric by a long shot. The repression of the 1980s that resulted in metric milk, cubic meters of carpet, has not been enforced in 30 years. One border station that we frequently mention, CKSY, near the Cleveland Detroit area, reports temperatures in both scales. They do use kilometers for long distance, but also Fahrenheit, feet, inches and pounds. Steaks in ounces, subs in inches, drinks in *Imperial* fluid ounces. Property in sq. ft., acres. Pizza in inches. We heard an ad yesterday, just like an American one, with the “2-liter” more as a unit, than actual measure. Inches for pie size. Otherwise they just wouldn’t emphasize the 2. An American ad would be identical, pizza in inches and drink in liters. We point out that Canada REQUIRES hard measures, with some of those measures hard Imperial, and they also allow USC (12 US fl. oz.), a 20 fl. oz. drink at subway is a “21 oz. drink” in Canada. To prevent downsizing, Canada is far more stringent against downsizing, to their credit: Milk hard metrication mandates were not adopted elsewhere in bottling, with these still utilized examples of required Imperial sizes:
    4 fl. oz.
    4 1/2 fl. oz.
    5 fl. oz.
    5 1/2 fl. oz.
    7 fl. oz.
    8 fl. oz.
    10 fl. oz.
    12 fl. oz.
    12.5 355 -12 US-fl. oz.
    13 fl. oz.
    14 fl. oz.
    19 fl. oz.
    20 fl. oz.
    21 fl. oz.
    28 fl. oz.
    32 fl. oz.
    40 fl. oz.
    48 fl. oz.
    60 fl. oz.
    64 fl. oz.
    75 fl. oz.
    100 fl. oz.
    126 fl. oz.


  11. It is understandable why there is so much imperial usage in Canada. It seems Canada like the UK has made metric official but turns a blind eye to those that avoid the law and use imperial. Here is a story about wood sold in cords:

    Those using imperial units are cheating. A cry to Measurement Canada resulted in a brush off. Those selling in cords instead of cubic metres are cheating and can get away with it because only the cubic metre is what Measurement Canada will support. If a supplier cheated using metric units, he would be in trouble with the law. But use imperial units and cheat and the law ignores the complainer.

    ” “To avoid any confusion about the amount of firewood purchased or sold, Measurement Canada recommends the use of the stacked cubic metre when purchasing or selling bulk firewood,” reads its statement.

    “Despite Measurement Canada’s ongoing struggle to convert everything to the metric system, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any firewood sold in Nova Scotia by the cubic metre.”

    Of course, why would anyone sell a product in metric if they can legally cheat using imperial?

    It is the same with market traders in the UK who refuse to use certified metric scales. If the customer wants to be cheated, let him or her continue to buy in imperial. If you don’t, look for a supplier selling only in metric.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dave R, the ‘My Supermarket” website gives the price of milk per litre. It also give evidence why the larger milk sizes might be gaining market share at the expense of the smaller sizes: they are so very much cheaper per litre.


  13. I found this website that asks: “How did Canada get switched to the metric system”.

    One comment sticks out and I can’t say whether it is typical or not, but it seems that the younger generations prefer metric over imperial. It is the older generations that cling to imperial. Of course, as they die out, their influence will die out with them.

    “Today many Canadians use a mixture of metric and imperial units in there daily lives. Over time this will probably shift to a greater amount of metric, as there are still many Canadians alive who learned the imperial system while in school– but no longer. It is common for both measurement systems to be mentioned in the same conversation. For example, I measure my height in feet and weight in pounds, personally– but at the hospital my heigh is measured in centimetres and my weight in kilograms. Most Canadians can handle both systems fairly easily, with younger Canadians prefering metric, older prefering imperial. ”

    ACWM presents a list of items that it claims are imperial. But, many such as pizza, subway, drinks, etc are oblivious, as many of these items can and are asked for as small, medium and large. Other items are by law require that their labels must be marked metric primary and imperial is optional. In most cases the imperial is absent. That long list of sizes in ounces would be filled in rounded millilitres and presented as such on labels (355 mL, 340 g, etc) and in most cases the imperial values are absent.

    People see only the metric and any hidden imperial is oblivious to them. So, it is no wonder the younger generations are more comfortable with metric units and prefer them.

    ACWM has presented a whitewashed version of Canada’s metric usage missing a lot of the intricate details that make a big difference in the lives of the people who are exposed to metric and prefer it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Americans for Customary Weight and Measure says: 2015-10-23 at 18:44

    ‘Let’s be perfectly clear about the Canadian “example.”’
    That is about as clear to me as a mud puddle in the smog.
    The fluid ounce means nothing to me, absolutely nothing.

    Well, lets be perfectly clear about the UK.
    Fl oz have never been ‘our thing’ to my knowledge. I have been doing the family shopping and cooking since primary school (1950’s), and was pretty street wise. I have never used the fl oz, it has never been much of a unit in UK, it is too confusing. I doubt if any usage would get into double % figures. As for anyone in UK knowing the difference between US and UK fl oz, or indeed that there is a difference, or which way round they go, would be in low single figures, if not in fractions of a percent.
    Until the article about rods of allotments came to the fore I never knew the rod was even used in UK, certainly at school it was only taught as a legacy unit even back then. I had no idea of its size until I saw it on here somewhere, why would I need to know?

    The ‘usage’ of a unit does not in itself imply an ‘understanding’ of the unit. The world uses ‘inches’ for wheels as we are gleefully reminded by the ‘other lot’, that does not imply an understanding of the inch any more than that of the profile percent figure that precedes it, nor indeed the width in mm that precedes that.
    The puzzle for me still, is why segments of the ‘intelligent’ human race persist in actively clinging on to units of measure of which they have little or no understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. @A for CW&M:

    The worst thing the EU did was deregulate preferred rational metric sizes for consumer products. Many areas of consumer products have however adhered to such a regime. As an example, I have just renovated a house I rent out, including completely replacing its kitchen. All the cabinet and door sizes are in hard metric numbers (300, 400, 500 and 600 mm), and it has made both ordering and installing the units incredibly easy. Everything fitted together, while at the same time using only metric measurements enabled me to complete the installation (done single handedly) to millimetre precision. What a contrast with the proliferation of imperial sizes you listed.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It is rare to find imperial sizes for any drinks apart from milk. Given the mixture of pint-based and litre-based sizes, it is often hard to distinguish between 2-pint and 1-litre bottles and between 4-pint and 2-litre bottles without looking at the labels because the sizes are so similar. How many times have consumers bought milk only to find out that they got less milk than they thought? It has sometimes happened to me.

    BTW, to see the image with the pie charts in full size, just click on it to see the breakdown of milk sales by different quantities for different years.


  17. I’m pleased this topic has sparked such interest because thus is likely to be next metric landmark when the supermarkets adopt universal metric containers fir milk. I strongly believe that their only reason for hanging to the four pint containers used for ‘standard’ milk (which is a loss leader) is so they can earn more money on the ‘posh’ milks which are almost all in 2L containers. In other words they can charge a premium for these types of and sell them in SMALLER containers. Customers may choose the premium milk subconsciously thinking they the price differential is not great because they don’t realise they are buying a smaller size. In the last couple of weeks Lidl have introduced a new range of Filtered Semi Skimmed milk and guess what, it’s in 2L bottles. If supermarkets are saying that switching to rational metric sizes would be too complex is simply not true because much of their range already is!
    I think the issue should be investigated by the Competition Commission because they are trying to deceive consumers by artificially inflating prices of the premium milks by using smaller containers.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. @Tim Bentley

    Yes, I have said this elsewhere before.

    By placing ‘ordinary’ milk in 2 pint containers next to ‘fancy’ milk in 1 litre containers it makes the price differential look that much smaller.
    Surely there can be no other rational reason for packaging standard cows milk in pints, and EVERYTHING else in litres.

    The do-gooders and various watchdogs seem oblivious to this practice, and along with their ambivalence to the most practical and useful of pricing aids, unit pricing, make one wonder at their real objectives. Even on that, the practice of using price per lb alongside the price per kg is sharp practice, if not actually illegal. Surly unit pricing is defined as /kg, /100g or /litre by law?

    On the plus side, all be it marginal, I notice TV sets are beginning to have screen diagonals in cm, i.e. “40 inch TV, screen diagonal 102 cm”, like, quite rightly, no one knows what “40 inch” means!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Not trying to defend the supermarkets but their real problem in switching to rational metric sizes is the backlash from the tabloid press. No individual chain is going to risk the Daily Wail calling on all their customers to boycott them because they’re “taking away our pinta”.


  20. Gosh! You people should get out more!
    Lots of people like to hear the words pint, mile, yard, inch, pound and foot used. They are part of the English language in a way that the kilometre, litre, kilo never will be. Get over it.
    People will always measure their height in feet and inches, their babies in pounds and ounces and their own weight in stones and pounds. When did you ever hear police give details of a suspect’s height in metric? Be serious – we all know what a six footer is but a one metre and how many centimetres tall suspect???. Soccer players will take their free kicks from 10 yards and Lords will never change cricket pitches of 22 yards. It really doesn’t matter what children are taught in school as most of them forget 99 per cent of their studies a couple of minutes after leaving the classroom.
    I’ve always seen metrication as a rip off to aid corporatists’ interests eg a pint is reduced to 500 mils, a two pound loaf slimmed into an 800 gram one and a pound of peas lost 54 grams to become 400 grams. Thanks you lot – try to campaign for something more worthwhile, such as ending poverty, and don’t try to foist this rubbish on an unwilling English public.
    Hopefully, after Cameron messes up his referendum we will soon be free anyhow!
    Happy Christmas – or do you lot want that to become Happy Holidays or Winterval?


  21. Steve, you should get out more!

    In Australia we speak English, and are quite comfortable with measuring our weight in kilos and buying our groceries by the kilogram and our milk by the litre. It’s the same with distances, which are measured in kilometres. However, if you give about your weight in stones and the majority of Australians (and most Americans) wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about.

    Using the metric system is as compatible with the English language as using the internet. If you are uncomfortable with metric measures, this doesn’t mean that everyone else is.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I seems that Steve has been nipping at the Christmas ale a bit early.

    Steve should get over the fact that a large majority of people today speak and use metric. If it wasn’t so, he wouldn’t be going into an angry tirade about the fantasy use of imperial.

    Steve’s history of bread making could be summed up as revisionists, not a gram of truth about it. One can read the real truth here:

    A loaf of bread was reduced from 454 g during WWII to save flour to 397 g and when metrication came about in 1977, it was upsized to 400 g. So how exactly did Steve see this as a metric rip-off when it happened 35 years before metrication? The only ones ripped off here are those that are passed these fabrications as fact.

    And now that bread makers are free to go to any size they want, they don’t seem to be going back to imperial. Imagine that.

    If Britain had completed metrication on time, there wouldn’t be any poverty. It comes from imperial resistors being kept out of the job market by being obsolete.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. @Steve:

    “…don’t try to foist this rubbish on an unwilling English public.”

    Well, Steve, I’ve got news for you. This ‘rubbish’, as you call it, is used exclusively by 95% of the world’s population. Considering that any country had a choice of using either imperial or metric (or even its own heritage measurement units), the fact that they all chose metric seems to indicate that it is far from rubbish. Could it be that they are right and you are wrong?

    You quote examples of products being rounded down due to metrication. No, that is not quite how it worked. Manufacturers used converting from imperial to metric as an EXCUSE to round down, not the reason. They would have still rounded down if the conversion had gone the other way. They likely would have reduced product sizes even if no conversion took place – that has been happening constantly, whether the products stayed imperial or stayed metric.

    As for being ‘free’ if the UK exits the EU, that might be true for certain aspects of UK life. But metrication is not one of them. In or out, the UK will continue to – has to – use metric units for almost all aspects of our lives. Our livelihood depends on it if we want to trade with the world (not just the EU). Or are you suggesting we go back to the medieval past? Good luck with that!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. @Steve:

    As a further comment on your post, you say you would like ‘us lot’ (whoever ‘us lot’ is) to campaign for something more worthwhile, like ending poverty. There have been many estimates done over the years on what the British muddle with dual measurement units costs the economy. Most seem to indicate that it is well north of £10 billion (£10 000 million) annually, in terms of wasted money (i.e. money spent dealing with dual measurements that results in no increase or improvement in output of goods and services). If you really want to end poverty, Steve, then you should be campaigning with ‘us lot’ to complete metrication, and thus free up all that wasted money, which could then be spent on ending poverty.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. @Steve says: 2015-12-12 at 23:19
    Gosh! You people should get out more!
    Lots of people like to hear the words pint, mile, yard, inch, pound and foot used. They are part of the English language in a way that the kilometre, litre, kilo never will be. Get over it.

    Ho! Ho! Ho! and a bundle of fun.
    Lets go with the joke
    First, it is my life and I will spend it as I please, or at least the best I can.
    ‘Lots of people like to hear the words pint, mile, yard, inch, pound and foot used’. A lot of do not.
    ‘When did you ever hear police give details of a suspect’s height in metric?’
    On the media, never. What is actually recorded by the police? If they differ, and differ they do, then false information is being broadcast. How does that become freedom of choice by the public?
    ‘We all know what a six footer is’. Who are you to tell me, or imply that I should know that? Factually, regretably, yes I do, but I never use it. Why assume ‘everybody knows’? Do not include ‘me’ in your ‘we’. What is in your passport? Why convert 6 foot to whatever (1.8288 m)? That is the way the mass media do it to deliberately try to make it look stupid. Well, yes it does look stupid, it is stupid and that is the way anti-metric mass media like it to look, and the mass audience revel in their every word. Do not convert, surely with the human race getting taller it is time to move on to 2 metres as the new benchmark? That looks quite sensible, it more reflects the growing race. Not only will ‘almost’ everyone in UK understand it, but certainly ‘almost’ everyone on planet Earth will understand it. Few (well, for now probably quite a few) outside of USA and UK will know your ‘6 foot’. Babies in UK are weighed and recorded in kg, they have been for many years. Class III scales with pounds and ounces quite simply no longer exist, they cannot exist by definition (or pedantically by lack of definition of lb and oz), get used to it and get over it. It is the nurse or whoever that converts the reading to pounds and ounces, (or stones and pounds for adults) for whatever reason. They did it for me, even when corrected they still persist with that bl””*y stupid conversion. How then, does that become the measure of my choice? It is only the persistent use foisted on an unwilling recipient that perpetuates this problem. Sure, many may want to convert (for a few years maybe), but many will not. Not given the chance is not a free choice. Your statement has no statistical foundation. Your view on child education is a bit negative to say the least, I guess that pretty much sums it up. Now for down-sizing. Yes, but metric units give freedom to package in an efficient manner. It also allows for sensible and rational unit pricing. In UK, although a legal requirement, this is treated as a perfunctory exercise. Almost always I have to swap glasses to read the lable. This matter should be taken more seriously. ‘Thanks you lot – try to campaign for something more worthwhile’. Now, duplicity costs this country a vast amount of money every day, by one overseas estimate I think was £3 million a day. Just think of every second spent converting, duplicating, double printing, double pricing. Then errors, wrong sizes it all adds up. Yes, that money could be better spent.
    The last bit is political, but has been allowed. Free of what? Free to trade with the whole world in units that none understand, free of any trade deals. Free to sink into oblivion which we all seek to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. @Steve

    What units people, including Britons, are familiar with depends on what they are used to. Other Europeans express their height in metres and their weight in kilograms. They have no trouble understanding the use of metres and kilograms in these contexts. That proves the point that familiarity comes with usage. For example, degrees Celsius is now well understood among Britons because of widespread media exposure.

    If your point about education refers to British schoolchildren’s wasted metric education, your point is valid. Unfortunately, their metric education is constantly undermined by the continued use of imperial units outside school and the UK’s failure to complete its metric transition. In the whole of Europe, only British schoolchildren face this problem. Our cars, roads, houses, and offices, like all modern UK construction and manufacturing, are designed and built entirely in metric units but schoolchildren only see imperial units. You can find more info about the effect of the continued use of imperial units on schoolchildren’s education in the following MV articles, and

    The use of the metric system is important to British business and is vital to their ability to compete with the rest of the world, as I explain in my previous MV article,, and as the 1972 White Paper on Metrication explains (link: For us, this has implications for jobs, investment, standards of living, tax revenues, and so on.

    Measurement is a very important issue in modern life. Many things in modern life would not be possible without measurement. Everything that is built and manufactured is measured and billions of pounds of everyday products are sold on the basis of their quantity.

    The downsizing issue you mention shows the folly of using two competing systems and is a consequence of Britain’s slow, long drawn-out move to metric. If the British had completed their metric transition, this problem would not arise. That is why Britain needs one system that everyone can understand and use. Britain certainly does not need two systems. The measurement mess undermines price transparency and hinders price comparisons.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Funny how the anti-progress brigade like to bring out the argument about companies using metrication as an excuse to make money – what about the products where this happens the other way around; (leaving aside the “unit pricing” label on supermarket shelves which is often ignored and sometimes misleading) products such as jam which is traditionally sold by UK manufacturers in 454 g packages when other countries package in 500 g units. Until recently McCain had continued to sell many of their lines of chips in 1.81 kg (4 lb) bags alongside other brands selling theirs in 2 kg bags. Some DIY stores still, despite the law, continue to sell turf by the square yard. It does nothing more than to distort price comparison and confuse the buyer.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Let’s bring this back to the topic of milk.
    People who have milk delivered to their doorsteps generally order a fixed number of pints per day. If milk bottles were to change to half litres instead of pints, most customers would buy the corresponding number of half-litres per day. In other words they would buy less milk.
    Dairies would hardly be happy with that.
    The argument that old pint bottles would need to be scrapped is false. This change could be brought about by phasing over. Milk bottles have a limited cycle life anyway. I have seen four distinct designs of milk bottle in my lifetime, ranging from the tall, wide-mouthed design of the 1950s, with cardboard caps, to the squat design of today.

    So why do supermarkets sell in pint sizes? That is less clear. I don’t see that they need to match doorstep milk; they are competing with that after all. People buy milk from supermarkets as required, without tying themselves to so many pints per day.

    One outlet that does sell milk in litre containers is One-Stop community stores. A sub-brand of Tesco it seems to be ahead of the metric game, It was selling weighed goods in metric in the early 1990s – well before this became compulsory. A pilot study, perhaps?


  29. Milk is still sold in pints, so is beer at you pub, its not a muddle the muddle is with litres. or milli litres
    cans of drink 330ml, why this? toothpaste 85ml, people just dont know how much they are getting for their money, whereas we bought things in 4 oz,8oz or lb no in between sizes. The metric system is a smokscreen to the GB rip off country it is, so all you anti-imperial can enjoy!


  30. When it comes to ripping off people during the course of trade, customary aka traditional aka heritage (and aka in the UK imperial) units are a great help. The metric system was created in the aftermath of the French Revolution to bring an end to the corruption and dishonesty surrounding the existing units, of which it was estimated there were in France at that time over 100 000.
    All filling machines today can only fill in increments of either 5 mL or 5 g. They can not do ounces, pints or pounds. Pints of milk and beer are filled to 570 mL increments, pounds often to 460 g, even if mislabeled to official conversion factors.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Daniel: I know that the so-called ‘pint’ of beer or cider is not really an imperial measure any more, but is served in a 570 ml glass. If it were imperial, it should be a 568 ml glass, but glasses are not (or cannot) be made for that measure because of the increments involved in manufacturing, to which you refer. So the ‘pint’ is just a name for the 570 ml size of glass.


  32. Imperialyes:
    Your post about beer in cans and toothpaste got me thinking. The answer to your question why beer is sold in 330 ml cans is because it is a rounded one-third of a litre. Supporters of imperial units like yourself are normally more comfortable with fractions, like one-third, so I don’t understand your antipathy. A 330 glass size is also quite common in some metric countries as a step between 250 ml and 500 ml. You mentioned your 85 ml tube of toothpaste. That got me running to my bathroom to see what the size of my own toothpaste is as I’ve never really given it much thought. It is in fact 75 ml and a German brand, so not so different to your own. You say that before metric came along everything was sold in sizes of 4 oz, 8 oz and 1 lb, with no in-between sizes. Does that include toothpaste and do you have any evidence of that?


  33. Whisky used to be sold in bottles size 26 2/3 fluid ounces. I would hardly call that a round size. Nowadays it is sold in 700 ml bottles like nearly all wines and spirits – or 70 cl, for those that prefer numeric quantities to be of a manageable size.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. That is interesting, Daniel. Are you talking about wines or spirits – or both?
    In the UK, spirits are sold in 700 ml bottles. 350 ml, 500 ml and 1 l bottles are also avaialble. The most usual size for wines now is 75o ml.


  35. @Metricmac: “Whisky used to be sold in bottles size 26 2/3 fluid ounces”. This is equates to 1 1/3 pint bottles. (The winders of non-decimal systems of units)


  36. @Metricmac: I hjave just been thinking about the 26 2/3 fluid ounce bottle of whisky – it is one sixth of a gallon. Assuming six bottles per box and excise duty calculated at so much per gallon, the excise duty on a consignment of whisky is easy to calculate.


  37. @BrianAC: You mentioned the rationale behind the pint milk bottles and pint mugs as being one to avoid throwing al of the obsolete pint bottles and mugs into the bottle bank. One way around the problem would be to prohibit the manufacture or importation of certified pint mugs (or bottles), but to permit existing mugs (and bottles) to be used for the rest of their useful lives. The industries would be invited to propose details of how best to go about phasing in the new 500 ml mugs and bottles. One way would be to create a market for second-hand mugs and bottles. When a pub renews its stock of beer mugs, the old ones are sold on to another pub who is deciding to stick with pints for the time being. Alternatively, the pub could be a “metric pub” during the weekends and an “imperial pub” during the week when fewer glasses are needed.


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