In the 60s, Borden's Elsie the Cow was content to provide supermarkets with milk packaged in glass and plastic gallon-sized containers. Much of the milk was unbranded, so the only decision Mom had to make was whether to lug home regular, skim or 2%.
Annual milk consumption peaked in 1970 at 32 gallons per person, but growing numbers of on-the-go consumers soon began trading in their milk jugs for more convenient beverages. Consumption declined, dropping about 1 percent per year to about 21.7 gallons in 2001.
When Dallas-based Dean Foods, which controls 30 percent of the milk supply (2 billion gallons), rolled out it's portable single-serve milk "chug" containers in 1997, it revolutionized a sleepy category and got R&D thinking outside the barn.
"Consumers perceive that milk in single-serve containers tastes fresher and better," says Tom Nagle, vice president of marketing for the Washington, D.C-based International Dairy Foods Association. "And because the containers are resealable, unfinished portions are transportable."
When sales of carbonated soft drinks began to lose their fizzle a few years ago, soft drink companies began to step gingerly into the milk category. Pepsi's joint venture with Starbucks rolled out Frapuccino, the popular refrigerated coffee and milk beverage, and Pepsi's SoBe brand drove the chocolate milk drink named Love Bus Brew across college campuses.
Last year, Coca-Cola, partnered with Nestle USA's Beverage Division to develop Choglit, a skim milk-based chocolate-flavored drink. It's packaged in an 11-oz. vending machine ready can, co-packed by Batavia, N.Y.-based O-AT-KA Milk Products, which specializes in producing low-acid food products. Retorted for sterilization, Choglit expands as it's heated. So, although the can is similar to traditional 12-oz carbonated-beverage cans, it contains only 11 ounces of product. CORRECTION: Coke will introduce Swerve, a milk-based beverage in three flavors -- chocolate, vanilla/banana and blueberry -- this month. It contains 52 percent skim milk, and will be sold in 12-oz. cans touting a grinning cow in dark glasses.
On the flavor front, thinking outside the barn has helped tempt kids and teens away from carbonated soft drinks. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Milk Processor Education Program Milk PEP, funded by the nation' milk processors, sales of flavored milks rose steadily to 440 million gallons in 2001; and sales were up 8 percent last year, representing 27 percent of category growth.
According to the Rosemont, Ill.-based National Dairy Council, chocolate is the most popular milk flavor (85.1 percent), followed by strawberry (9.1 percent), vanilla (2.3 percent) banana (1.5 percent) and coffee (0.7 percent). Vanilla, one of the hottest flavors last year, showed the biggest spurt with a unit change of 247.6 in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 29, 2002, according to Information Resources Inc.
But flavors in test markets aren't quite as tame. How about periwinkle-hued blueberry milk available on the East Coast, dulce de leche caramel in the Southwest, mocha cappuccino or peanut butter in the Midwest, or orange cream flavored Bravo Foods' Looney Tunes Slammers reduced fat 2% milk packaged in aseptic boxes?
Cadbury Schweppes' Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. took another leap forward with the introduction of Raging Cow (60 percent milk) this past March. It's being touted as "udder madness" and "flavored milk with an attitude." Although it's shelf-stable, the drink is sold "cold" in the dairy case, vending machines and convenience stores. Flavors include Berry Mixed Up, Chocolate Insanity, Chocolate Caramel Craze, Jamocha Frenzy and Pina Colada Chaos. Dr Pepper tried several way-out flavors like apple cinnamon, but found that consumers gravitate toward chocolate.
Since Raging Cow is an oxymoron, we had to get the skinny on its name. "The consumer research we conducted helped us identify young adults as the primary audience for Raging Cow, although anyone who likes milk is likely to embrace this product," says director of brand marketing Andrew Springate. "Having escaped from a dairy where milk was the only option, Raging Cow's unpredictable and mischievous mascot symbolizes the independence and enthusiasm of the brand's target consumers. We wanted a representative that would reflect the adventurous spirit in people, a creature with a flair for making a point. We found a perfect bovine, and she is ,'udderly' overjoyed to be promoting Raging Cow until the cows come home." And he adds, "Raging Cow's only utterance is an occasional ,'primal moo,' which is tantamount to a bovine scream."
There's no doubt that the perception of milk has changed; it's getting to be a cool beverage for all age groups. Much of that change is the result of the work of the Berkeley, Calif.-based California Milk Processor Board (CMPB). The Board hired ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners a decade ago and has managed the hip, memorable GOT MILK? campaign and trademark for the past 10 years. CMPB also took GOT MILK? national with licensing deals with both Dairy Management Inc, and the Milk Mustache group. The GOT MILK? program has had a direct and dramatic impact on the milk industry
"Before GOT MILK? sales were dropping by 2 percent to 3 percent annually," says
says CMPB executive director Jeff Manning. "Since 1994, the hemorrhaging has been stopped. California milk sales in 2002 were up 1.6 percent versus 2001, while U.S. sales (excluding California) were flat."
One of the latest entries into the category is Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based White Soda Sparkling Milk Co.'s vitamin and calcium enriched Crazy Cow, the first shelf-stable carbonated milk beverage , with the tagline, "soda that's actually good for you." Made with carbonated water, skim milk, and yogurt flavors, it's available in Lemon-Vanilla Ice, Strawberry Chill and Orange Creamsicle and has a two-year shelf life. Speculation is that a major beverage company soon will lap up the entrepreneurial firm.
Dean Foods' Morningstar Foods recently introduced a 4-pack of resealable single-serve on-the-go Folgers Jakada iced coffees, a sweetened blend of low-fat milk and Mountain Grown Folgers coffee with a latte appeal. Jakada is available in French Roast, Mocha and Vanilla flavors. The new Folgers Jakada four-pack is made possible by Morningstar Foods' new aseptic technology, which extends the shelf life of dairy-based beverages to 150 days and allows these products to be stored and shipped at ambient temperatures. The technology utilizes a patented three-layer bottle. The middle layer blocks out all light from the product, allowing it to maintain the original nutrient content and flavor, possible because pasteurization, homogenization, bottle blow molding and filling procedures are all conducted in a completely sterile environment. This allows the products to earn the aseptic designation without the need for additives or preservatives.
Dean is using an expensive technology imported from Europe: each filling line (18,000 bottle per hour) costs $12 million. But we're certain Elsie would agree it's a small price to pay for consumer convenience and contentment.