It’s time for a milk makeover

Dairy needs to innovate around key trends and bring nutritional benefits back to the fore if it wants to reclaim the high ground, writes Dr. Laura Wyness.

21 November 2018
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Meet the Expert

Who: Dr. Laura Wyness

What: Independent registered nutritionist


Although cow’s milk remains a common item in UK shopping baskets, there are concerns that it is falling out of favour, especially among the younger generation.

The majority of growth, at least in volume terms, is taking place in the non-dairy ‘milk’ category. In 2017-18, pasteurised milk grew at 0.1%, while plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk, including soya, oat, almond and rice drinks, grew at 12%, according to the Agriculture, Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

With consumer attitudes and eating habits changing, and a growing number of milk alternatives now available, what can be done to make dairy a more attractive choice?

Research by Tom Levitt, a recent Nuffield Scholar, may help answer that question. His report explores how the market for milk is evolving and what the opportunities are for improving the consumer perception and value of milk.

Current challenges facing the milk sector

Consumers are used to milk being cheap. The drive to reduce the price means that most milk in the UK is sold in no-frill plastic containers and is homogenised, with the milk fat broken up so that it does not separate from the milk.

What is actually an interesting and complex substance has been standardised to a red, blue or green bottle top. This leaves little room for innovation in product, packaging or marketing.

“This has also meant that dairy processors have had little interest in the distinctive taste of milk that is unhomogenised or from different breeds,” according to Doug Wood, hired by Graham’s Family Dairy as the UK’s first milk sommelier.

Opportunities for innovation

The consumption of milk is evolving, not disappearing. Encouraging milk consumption on occasions other than at breakfast time provides many opportunities for innovation, such as smoothies, milk in pouches and iced lattes.

The most successful dairy businesses are the ones that innovative to meet key trends, including convenience, snacking, on-the-go and health.

“The new barista milks, kefir drinks and other drinkable milk products providing specific taste, health or nutritional benefit are clearly capturing the changing eating habits, interests and lifestyles of consumers,” writes Levitt.

We now have high protein juices and water with added vitamins, but so far milk has done little to innovate to provide any extra benefit.


Milk stats

  • The UK is among the three largest milk producers in the European Union.
  • It’s output is exceeded by France and Germany alone, according to a 2016 parliamentary briefing paper from the House of Commons Library.
  • Four years ago, the 14.6bn litres of milk produced in the UK accounted for 17.8% of total agricultural output.


Is health a good selling point for milk?

A third of 16- to 24-year-olds are cutting back on dairy, with 60% of them citing health as the reason, according to The Grocer. The other main reasons were animal welfare (32%) and the impact on the environment (25%).

Main health concerns were fat, sugar and allergy or intolerance. Where have all the positive nutritional messages of milk gone?   

Cow’s milk is a nutrient-dense drink containing useful vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin D, calcium, iodine and phosphorus. It provides high-quality protein and studies show that it can help increase muscle strength after exercise and reduce age-related muscle loss.  

Milk contains a beneficial range of nutrients to support bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and drinking whole milk may actually help prevent weight gain, according to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

There is a shift amongst consumers from reactive to preventative solutions, so to sell milk, you have to highlight milk as a personalised solution. A recent example of this is the launch of Protein 40, a naturally high-protein, low-fat milk that can be used as an everyday milk or for a protein boost pre- or post-workout. 

Why branded milk provides a great opportunity

Levitt highlights in his report that branded milk is driving growth in the liquid milk category, with value sales up 4.4% and volumes up 52% in 2017. Yet they account for less than 20% of total sales, a still comparatively small share in contrast to other food products. 

Specialist coffee shops are now choosing a specific brand of milk to make their beverages. Meanwhile, kefir drinks and other drinkable milk products that provide a specific taste, health or nutritional benefit offer many opportunities for milk producers to explore. 

Brands can drive both value and uniqueness back into milk, but it seems that there is a lot of catching up to do in terms of innovation in the sector.  

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