The road to recovery

by David Phillips
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Chocolate milk may be gaining in popularity with a segment of consumers who may not have been core purchasers of the product in the past — athletes focused on improving their performance. That’s the good news for the fluid milk category, where an economic downturn and increased competition from the non-carbonated beverage market has compounded the ongoing problem of declining per-capita consumption.

Chocolate milk’s recent return to popularity stems from industry efforts to spread the word about how it may help the body recover after exercise. Milk processors like Anderson Erickson Dairy (AE), Des Moines, Iowa, have embraced the message in their marketing. A regional market leader that sells milk in Iowa and several surrounding states, AE was recognized this year with a MilkPEP (Milk Processor Education Program) award for a marketing program illustrating how a local college football coach encouraged players to drink AE chocolate milk after workouts.

“It’s one thing when mom says to drink your chocolate milk, but it’s another thing when your coach says it,” said Kim Peter, marketing director for AE.

The chocolate milk message is being used by all sizes of milk processors.

Tiny Traderspoint Creamery in Southern Indiana bottles fluid milk, among many dairy products. Its chocolate milk label tells consumers that the chocolate milk is organic and grass-fed, but it also capitalizes on the muscle recovery marketing message as well.

Fluid milk under pressure

Overall fluid milk sales lost ground in 2009 and during the first quarter of this year, according to the SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. Dollar sales dropped dramatically, in part because of lower prices, but unit sales also were down by an average of about 2% during the five 13-week reporting periods. SymphonyIRI’s scanner-based data is for food, drugstore and mass merchandisers, but does not include Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., convenience stores, or food service.

During the same period, the flavored milk and refrigerated milkshake category was just as sluggish as the larger fluid milk category. The products have done better of late with flavored milk showing slight volume growth, and refrigerated milkshakes enjoying a 6% gain in both dollar and volume sales in the period ended March 28.

The news about chocolate milk’s post-workout restorative powers first came to light more than five years ago. In 2004, the dairy industry began publicizing research indicating the components of chocolate milk may be more beneficial for recovery than some sports drinks. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps added some luster to the marketing push that year when he was seen drinking chocolate dairy drinks during his gold medal run.

Several studies have confirmed chocolate milk’s benefits as a post-workout aid. This past month, results of a new study from the University of Connecticut were presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference in Baltimore. The combination of carbohydrates, protein, water and nutrients like calcium in low-fat chocolate milk appears to have a positive impact on muscle recovery, said William Lunn, Ph.D., who helped conduct the experiment.

The research involved eight male runners in good physical shape who ate a balanced diet for two weeks. At the end of each week, they took a fast paced, 45-minute run. Following each run, the men drank either 16 ounces of fat-free chocolate milk or 16 ounces of a carbohydrate-only sports beverage with the same number of calories.

Post-exercise muscle biopsies showed increased skeletal muscle protein synthesis after the milk drink, compared with the carb-only beverage.

Additionally, drinking fat-free chocolate milk led to a higher concentration of glycogen, or muscle fuel, in muscles 30 minutes and 60 minutes after exercise, compared with the sports drink. Replenishing glycogen after exercise helps future performance, Dr. Lunn said.

Building a better flavored milk

Today’s flavored milks are not the same beverages many adult consumers drank while growing up. In 2007, the industry came together to offer milk processors an integrated program for reformulating milk intended to be served in schools. New nutrition guidelines meant some fluid products were not eligible to be offered as part of a school lunch menu. The result of the reformulation effort is the products now are not only offered in schools, but are in the supermarket dairy case where they appeal to parents and weekend athletes.

Garelick Farms, Franklin, Mass., is a unit of Dean Foods Co., Dallas, and a well-established brand in New England. It now offers a line of

chocolate milk called TruMoo that is made with sugar. A serving provides 150 calories and 22 grams of sugar, allowing it to meet new school requirements.

But recommendations to curb sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among children continue to mount. This past October, the Institute of Medicine recommended nutrition and meal standards for school feeding programs be updated and restrict the availability of flavored milks. The I.O.M. report did recommend that one cup of regular milk be served with every breakfast or lunch served in schools.

As the debate over the serving of sugar-sweetened beverages, including flavored milks, has progressed, the dairy industry has initiated programs to communicate the benefits of flavored milk products. In February, the Milk Processor Education Program and Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill., rolled out the Raise Your Hand to Chocolate Milk marketing effort that is designed to allow milk processors to educate parents on the role flavored milks play in child nutrition by getting children to drink more milk.

Fluid milk gets a makeover

While flavored milks are getting a lot of press, regular fluid milk has been subject to some enhancements as well. There are now several new products on the market that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, which help support brain and heart health. This past May, Organic Valley, La Farge, Wis., rolled out Omega-3 Organic Milk.

The farmer-owned cooperative tells consumers to “think of Omega-3 Milk as ‘milk-plus.’” It is a complete source of omega-3 DHA, EPA and ALA, and an excellent source of DHA and EPA with 50 mg per serving,

“When researchers polled consumers on what nutrients they feel are lacking in their diets, the top response was omega-3s,” said Eric Newman, vice-president of sales for Organic Valley. “Sixty-five per cent of consumers say they would buy omega-3 milk. We are proud that our new product will do more than any other milk on the market to boost omega-3 intakes, and that we have found a safe and sustainable natural source for the omega-3s added to these products.”

Organic milk faces challenges

As a subcategory within the fluid milk market, organic milk has had a bit of a tough go of late. As the price of conventional milk stayed low in 2009, organic milk prices remained high, due in part to an increase in the price of organic feed. This led to a stark price differential that had been almost negligible when conventional milk prices skyrocketed in 2008. The higher spread came at a time when consumers were tightening their belts, and at a time when many conventional dairies have been offering milk produced without the use of recombinant bovine somatotropin.

Still, organic milk marketers continue to innovate. The omega-3 fatty acid products are just one area where organic milk marketers seek to adding value. Organic milk appeals to parents of younger children, and to capitalize on this Organic Valley expanded its selection of single-serve organic flavored milks. The company now offers 12 s.k.u.s (stock-keeping units) of its 8-oz single serve milk, including four flavors, and multipacks of 4 and 12. The 12-carton multipacks sell for more than $15, demonstrating that innovations in high quality milk and great packaging may allow for much higher margins. All are made with low fat (1%) milk.

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