In a product category that hasn't shown any sales growth for over a generation, Coca-Cola and Select Milk Producers' national product launch of Fairlife has served notice that it will not be business as usual in the dairy case. Despite what some skeptics have been saying, we firmly believe that a shake-up of the status quo will benefit all those who milk cows for a living by reinvigorating fluid milk.

Critics of the potentially game-changing beverage generally fall into two camps. There are those who have been concerned that Fairlife could cannibalize sales from traditional milk products. Then there's the "me too" contingent of companies that wished they could have been part of the dairy-producer funded partnership with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). Checkoff seed money ultimately provided the spark to launch the ultra-filtered, lactose-free milk which contains 50 percent more protein, 30 percent more calcium and 50 percent less sugar.

From our perspective, we are glad that fluid milk processors may have finally realized that dairy farmers and our promotion organizations are serious about growing fluid milk. Here's our question back to those "me too" organizations now that Fairlife has hit store shelves: "Where were your innovative ideas and marketing budgets in the years leading up to the world's largest beverage player stepping up and introducing its product into 38,000 retail outlets across the nation?"

As for Fairlife taking sales away from other milk products . . . that impact is minimal. For the most part, the new milk beverage has been competing directly against imitation dairy beverages and organic milk products found in the nontraditional dairy case. While Fairlife has sometimes been improperly displayed with traditional milk products, its cost, nearly double of its conventional counterpart, has caused minimal sales loss when compared to rank-and-file milk cartons and jugs.

One day we hope Fairlife will become the Domino's of the pizza category. By creating a new pace car with DMI seed money in a once slumping sector, Domino's caused all serious players to match them and add more cheese to their pizza to improve taste if competitors had hopes of retaining sales. Likewise, if the old guard of fluid milk is now on the edge of its chair taking notice because of Fairlife, we hope that their "catch-up" innovation will begin to stem four decades of slumping fluid milk sales.

This editorial appears on page 290 of the April 25, 2015 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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