COLUMNISTS

The new milk: Seven years later, success tells the story

John Oncken
fairlife milk was a new product on grocers' shelves not too many years ago.

Let's travel back to February 2014 when a new product called “'fairlife' purely nutritious milk™ (that is how it is spelled) appeared on the scene.

Touted as a high nutrition milk (50% more protein and calcium, 50% less sugar than regular milk) that just began selling in the Minneapolis and Denver markets. These are two test markets with the national rollout being planned for later this spring.

Who would be dumb enough or perhaps ingenious enough to try and market a new milk in light of the annual downward trend (for decades) in milk drinking, one might ask? After all, dairy producer checkoff funds have been used for decades in efforts to stop the every-year decrease in milk drinking.

Don’t jump to conclusions! fairlife, LLC, headquartered in Chicago, is behind the new milk now hitting the market.

fairlife LLC was founded in 2012 by Select Milk Producers, a co-op of 92 family-owned dairies that already marketed Core Power, a high protein drink created for fitness enthusiasts and on-the-go protein seekers. Thus they are not amateurs in dairying and selling dairy products.

Sue and Mike McClosky were among the original founders of fairlife along with Select Producers Co-op.

Founders Mike McCloskey (think chairman of Fair Oaks Farms, 35,000 cows, 25,000 acres and international tourist destination in northern Indiana) and his wife Sue, dairy farmers who co-founded fairlife, believed they could create new products to provide families with better nutrition from the wholesome goodness of real milk.

"Mike and I have been dedicated for years with finding ways to produce more nutritious milk," Sue says. "We believe today's active families want more protein and calcium without lactose. “We literally designed fairlife at our kitchen table combining my interest in healthy wellness products and Mike's veterinary and scientific background. That's what's led to this amazing and great-tasting milk."

New cold filtration

 The new milk promotes 50% more protein and calcium and 50% less sugar than regular milk. This is accomplished by a new (patented) cold-filtration process (the idea of veterinarian turned dairy farmer Mike McCloskey). It is used to concentrate desired nutrients like protein and calcium, while separating out the fats and sugars from the milk.

My first thought back then was that fairlife was adding protein concentrate. No, this explanation from their web site clarifies the process. “We filter our milk into its five components (water, butterfat, protein, vitamins & minerals, lactose) and then recombine them in different proportions. So we never need to add protein or calcium powders – it’s already in the milk!”

Sue McCloskey, of Fair Oaks Farms, watches as cows move to the milking parlor at the farm, in Fair Oaks, Ind. fairlife, which rolled out nationally in 2015, is the product of a joint venture between Select Milk Producers, a dairy cooperative, and Coca-Cola. The product is filtered to have more protein and less sugar than regular milk. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The company is approaching the consumer market by emphasizing health, taste, natural nutrition, family farms, sexy vitality, quality, sustainability and animal comfort – all the good things in dairy agriculture. Indeed, they surely know how to make a product appealing.

And why shouldn’t they? fairlife milk is another step by an organization that has built a dairy empire second to none in terms of educating and entertaining visitors about cows, farming, manure, farming and modern, scientific agriculture. And now milk direct to consumers.

Mike McCloskey and his partners in Fair Oaks Farm have put together an international attraction that hosts many thousands of visitors each year. Their web site says: “Fair Oaks Farms is an escape to the country with acres of great outdoor fun, food and learning where you can explore family farms and reconnect with nature, animals and our planet."

fairlife purely nutritious milk™ will initially be sold in 32 ($2.99) and 64 ounce ($3.99) plastic bottles with a 11.5 ounce single serve bottle to come, according to Anders Porter, company communications director. There is 2% and skim milk and 2% chocolate.

The future?

Marketing success is never a “for sure” but dairy folks have always sought new products that would increase dairy sales with cheese as a great success story, why not milk? This new product, from a private company that has had many successes, may be a winner for dairying.

Mike McCloskey and his partners in Fair Oaks Farm have put together an international attraction that hosts many thousands of visitors each year.

Now 

That's what I wrote seven years ago and lots of things have happened since: A year later news stories told of how Coca Cola was now selling a new milk called fairlife (as a marketing partner), a product you read about on these pages on Feb. 21, 2014.

Would it be successful I wondered? Yes, it was in the test marketing then, but we didn't yet know what would happen as marketing ramped up nationally. With Coca-Cola's marketing expertise, though, it would seem chances for success were pretty good.

fairlife is “basically the premiumization of milk," Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas said when the product was introduced. At about double the price of milk, some said the price is too high. I doubt it; organic milk is also higher priced – near double that of regular milk and its consumption rate jumps every year. People will pay for what they want.

New premium milk brand fairlife is hoping to contribute to the "rebirth of milk," with the goal of its product reaching "every fridge in America," fairlife CEO Steve Jones said.

Milk consumption is down in the U.S. due to a "lack of innovation" in the industry, according to Jones. "If you excite consumers with something new, where there's a real benefit that they see as functionally important to their life, then they'll come back and try it," he said.

In 2020, Coca-Cola acquired the remaining 57.5% stake in the brand to become the sole owners of fairlife and extended sales nationwide.

Value-added milk brand fairlife LLC, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, has surpassed $1 billion in retail sales, breathing new life into the sluggish fluid milk category.

Over $1 billion                        

A recent company release updated 2021 fairlife sales: “Value-added milk brand fairlife LLC, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, has surpassed $1 billion in retail sales, breathing new life into the sluggish fluid milk category.”

I don't know how that sales figure equates with pounds of milk sold but it has to be a positive in comparison to fluid milk sold for drinking.

When fairlife milk was announced seven years ago there were doubters among the dairy community, not now. Innovation found success!

John Oncken can be reached at jfodair2@gmail.com