fairlife: ‘We’re responsible for a large portion of the growth in the value-added dairy category’
Made via a filtration process that separates milk into water, fat, protein, vitamins & minerals, and lactose (milk sugar) and then recombines them in different proportions to produce lactose-free milk with 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and 50% less sugar than regular milk, fairlife was rolled out nationally last December after “amazing” results in three test markets.
While fairlife LLC – a partnership between Select Milk Producers and Coca-Cola (which distributes the product) – has not disclosed any sales figures, Porter told FoodNavigator-USA: “Our distribution is very strong and growing and we’re actually responsible for a large portion of the growth in the value-added dairy category, which is very exciting.
“Our velocities are exceeding those of our test markets, and the repeat rate is surpassing what we anticipated for this, and for any new product. When people try it, they love it and come back for it again and again.”
As for the pricetag – fairlife is around twice the price of regular milk – it has not proved a barrier, he added: “Quite honestly, it’s not been an issue for us; people see the benefits we offer and they are willing to pay for them. We’re also priced lower than organic milk and a lot of other value added dairy brands.”
‘Sexist’ ads? ‘We’ve spent some time on figuring out how to tell our story best…’
While the marketing approach has evolved (an early ad campaign featuring naked ‘50s-style pin-up girls doused in milk was dubbed ‘sexist’ by some commentators and has subsequently been replaced by ads focusing on the origins story behind the milk), the core message has remained the same, said Porter: milk, only better.
“We’ve spent some time on figuring out how to tell our story best and our new campaigns focus on meeting the founders and the farmers that make the product, and that’s been phenomenally successful for us. People want to know where their milk comes from.”
People were sometimes surprised when we told them that milk actually contained protein
The key objective, however, is to shake up a tired category, he explained.
“People aren’t drinking as much milk as they used to, in part because there are so many other beverage options now. But the other reason is that milk really hasn’t changed, while there has been so much innovation in other parts of the market.
“People are aware that it’s good for you, but they didn’t see it as a superfood. In market research we did, people were sometimes surprised when we told them that milk actually contained protein.”
Similarly, many consumers in focus groups were unaware that milk contains naturally occurring milk sugars (lactose), so the 50% less sugar claim also gets many people thinking, he noted.
“We just felt that milk was ready for a change and we wanted to shake things up a bit; we are still milk but we have more of those things consumers are finding elsewhere in other products (more protein, less sugar).”
fairlife is a mainstream, mass market product
While Porter says wooing lapsed milk drinkers is part of its mission, he acknowledged that the brand is primarily gaining traction among consumers that already drink milk, but want to trade up: “It’s a value added proposition [hence the tagline: milk, only better].”
While the lactose-free claim is important for some consumers, it’s not front and central in the packaging or marketing, however, as consumer research suggested that products homing in on this aspect are sometimes seen by consumers as niche/medical (in the sense that they are only targeting people with a lactose intolerance).
“fairlife is a mainstream, mass market product, and you can sometimes alienate the people you are going after if you focus too much on one message, so we’re not trumpeting this aspect.”
The larger picture is going beyond fairlife milk and creating a whole assortment of different products
As for new products, fairlife is currently working on several spin-off products utilizing its high-protein milk, revealed Porter.
“The larger picture is going beyond fairlife milk and creating a whole assortment of different products for people that can be consumed during any day part. We want to get into every moment of people’s lives with new value added milk products.”
The most well-known is Core Power, a high-protein milkshake with 26g of protein per 11.5oz bottle.
However, more recent introductions include a Greek yogurt used in parfaits at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide and a flavored milk targeting the teen market called YUP! (‘It’s time to YUPgrade your milk…’) that boasts 25% less sugar than regular flavored milks and is currently being test marketed in the eastern US, Porter said.
Asked whether fairlife branded yogurts might be developed for the grocery retail market, he said: “You never know, but foodservice is our primary focus [for the yogurts] right now.”
Core Power: A short, simple ingredients list
Core Power, meanwhile, is “doing amazingly well”, he claimed, and had recently been boosted by tie ups with key influencers such as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Paralympic athlete Blake Leeper.
Unlike other protein shakes on the market, Core Power is unique in that its 26 grams of protein are from the milk [made using fairlife’s proprietary filtration process] rather than “throwing in a bunch of protein powders”, he said.
“We’re harnessing the value and nutrition already in milk. People love that.”
Meanwhile, the ingredients list is also shorter than that of many rival offerings, he claimed: “That’s a huge part of its appeal. Turn around the bottle and you have a really short, simple ingredients list.”
As for claims made by Euromonitor analyst Lianne van den Bos on our sister site DairyReporter - that some consumers are “put off” by fairlife’s filtration process (“Some bloggers call it the Frankenstein of milk. To me, that is something Fairlife will struggle with”), Porter said he was “baffled” by her comments, as they didn’t reflect feedback fairlife had had at any stage of the product’s evolution.
Consumers, he said, were very comfortable with the concept of filtration, which fairlife explains in cartoon form on its website in this video: