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Coca Cola Redesigns Milk

The mega-beverage processor, known for its marketing prowess when it comes to redesigning an already known product, to appeal to a lucrative, health-conscious, demographic has entered the dairy market. Coca-Cola partnered with one of the largest dairy farms in the U.S. to launch Fairlife, a lactose-free milk that boasts less sugar, more protein and calcium, and comes to market at a cost twice that of regular milk.

The marketing pitch positions Fairlife as being at the cutting edge of milk-making and farming efficiency. Using a patented ‘ultra-filtration process’ the milk manufacturer breaks down the whole food into its parts - water, vitamins and minerals, lactose, protein and fats, then reformulates the milk with a higher concentration of protein and calcium while removing the fat and sugars. In their marketing video, the owners of Fair Oaks Dairy Farms, who developed the process, sit in front of a serene farm landscape, highlighting the value of mom providing nutrition to her kids and diary farmers who ‘believe in better’. They also reference their commitment of going from ‘grass to glass’ to make great tasting nutrition. The word nutrition is mentioned six times in the 2 minute video.

At first blush, all this may sound like a good idea to a lot of people. But when deconstructing the marketing message, another story appears. First, highly pasteurized milk does not necessarily equal a healthier beverage. Pasteurization exists because producers need to destroy dangerous food borne pathogens like E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella found in the milk of cows that are raised on factory farms. The process disturbs milk’s nutrient profile wiping out much of the beneficial bacteria. That’s one of the reasons people who can’t digest pasteurized milk are able to tolerate raw milk. In their chocolate product there’s added sugar, artificial sweeteners and corn starch. As to the reference of a longer shelf life, once the carton is opened, Fairlife has the same shelf life in your fridge than regular milk. So that benefit has little to do with nutrition and more to do with the shipping and retail sales.

Then there’s the razzle-dazzle of selling a ‘natural’ product that’s raised and produced in a responsible, ethically manner. Fair Oaks does make an attempt to be responsible - their operation is run on methane from all that 'cow poo'. But make no mistake. While their web site talks about better sustainable farming and extraordinary standards, in reality, this is an integrated vertical model that is all about GMO harvests and factory farming.

Back in 2010, the Atlantic ran a story about two dairy farms. The reporter visited a traditional dairy that was barely surviving because of the low price of milk and another that was located in the heart of Indiana’s GMO growing belt where transgenic corn, alfalfa, and soybean grow row, after row, after row. The dairy farm was Fair Oaks, the same dairy that’s the flagship farm for FairLife. The facility housed 30,000 cows, in 10 sheds each the size of aeroplane hangers, tended by a workforce of 400. The spread was 19,000 acres—that’s enough to accommodate 56,000 football fields. Fully automated, milking was a 24/7, 365 days a year operation. Each cow is milked three times a day, as opposed to traditional dairies that milk their cows twice a day. Just stopping long enough for equipment to be automatically cleaned, the operation produces 250,000 gallons (just over 946,000 litres) of milk per day.

The birthing barn at Fair Oaks was also a busy place. Between 80 and 100 calves were born each day, half of which at press time, were female. To overcome that biological inconvenience Fair Oaks planned on using ‘sex select’ insemination, a process that promises 80 percent of calves born will be female. Male calves are sold for slaughter; female calves travel south to farms in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri to mature for two and a half years, then are artificially inseminated. When seven months pregnant, they return to Fair Oaks. Two months later, after their first calves are born, they are designated a slot on the 24-7 rotating milking parlour for five to seven years, never again to walk a pasture. So much for grass to glass.

So, before putting your hard earned dollars into the pockets of yet another producer that uses cheap GMO fodder consider this. Their marketing program attempts to take advantage of the ‘real food’ movement by selling consumers on the idea of transparency, simple ingredients and advanced farming practices. That’s not selling milk, it’s selling a happy, feel-good experience when purchasing a highly processed product.

Natural milk has been a nutritional cornerstone for thousands of years. It represents the synergistic link between whole food and the vital nutrition that heals our bodies as we move through our busy lives. Milk is already packed with nutrients. If you need more protein eat an egg or some almonds. If you need more calcium up your dark leafy greens. Conscious consumers who drink milk have a choice. You can buy into the marketing hype of a ‘transformed’ household staple or buy what you know - classic milk from regional dairies. The choice, as always, is yours.