The product is a first-of-its-kind milk, which some commentators have been quick to call “franken milk” and suggesting it’s a laboratory experiment. Nothing could be further from the truth. The product is made using filters to remove lactose and concentrate protein and calcium. Once the process is complete, the milk has 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and half the sugar. The technology is not much different than that used to remove fat from whole milk to make skim, with that fat then being added back to whole milk to make cream.
“At fairlife, we’ve always believed in better,” said Steve Jones, chief executive officer. “Everything from better farming to better cow care to better nutrition; that’s why we’re introducing fairlife ultra-filtered milk, a real milk that’s great tasting and more nutritious than regular milk.
“We’re providing people a better source of nutrition. And that’s important. We know that the majority of people these days are looking for better nutrition in their food, and they want their food to be real and less processed and come from a source they can trust.”
The company’s headquarters may not be what one would expect for a dairy processor. The single-story, loft-style building is located in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. It is nestled among office building skyscrapers, universities and hospitals, and a growing urban family neighborhood with schools, parks and retail merchants. There’s a barn — in the boardroom — in the center, and a cafe, which is open to the community during the warm months, providing samples of fairlife milk, as well as the company’s original value-added, high-protein milk beverage: Core Power. Both fairlife ultra-filtered milk and Core Power are premium products designed for urban, contemporary consumers.
Of course, neither of the products, nor the ones in the works would be possible if it was not for the cows that the company sources its raw material supply. The company describes itself as a health-and-wellness company that produces and markets premium-quality, value-added nutrition products that start with milk from farmers committed to sustainable and traceable agriculture. It is a partnership between Select Milk Producers Inc., Artesia, N.M., and The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta. Coca-Cola is the distribution partner for the products that fairlife creates, market and sells.
Select Milk Producers was formed in 1994 by a group of dairy producers with high-quality milk and efficient dairy farm operations. Select members are based primarily in Texas, New Mexico and the Midwest. Altogether, Select is the fifth largest dairy cooperative in the United States. The co-op’s flagship farm, located in Fair Oaks, Ind., is open to the public and is recognized as an innovator and leader in sustainable agriculture.
Grass to glass
The company is all about “from Grass to Glass,” a trademarked slogan that provides transparency and full traceability.
“We believe in traceability from grass to glass,” said Sue McCloskey, who together with her husband Mike, founded fairlife. “When we say traceability, we mean that we own our own land and grow our own crops to feed our own cows. And at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, we run our own biofuel trucks to take our own milk to our own state-of-the-art bottling facility to put our own fairlife milk into our own bottles.”
The closed system is unique to fairlife and allows the company to be guardians of its milk every step of the way.
“I came to believe that there’s a close correlation between the quality of a dairy cow’s life, and the quality of milk that the cow produces,” said Mr. McCloskey, a dairy animal veterinarian who transitioned to a dairy farmer in the 1990s.
The concept of filtering milk to improve its nutritional profile came to fruition after the preferred well on the McCloskey’s farm was lost.
“It was a source of excellent quality water for our cows to drink,” he said. “Our other wells on that farm had hard water and the cows were not happy drinking that water. We tried drilling new wells but could not hit that same aquifer. So we looked into a filtering system.”
After combining several types of filters, the cows finally got the water they preferred. It showed.
“Their coats and health improved rapidly and their milk production increased higher than before,” he said. “We had filtered out the bad and kept the good, and the cows reacted to it.”
As the adage goes, “everything happens for a reason.” This experience with filtering water sparked Ms. McCloskey’s curiosity, and several months later she proposed using the same concept to make milk better.
“I started thinking that if I, as a woman, could get all my calcium and a big part of my essential proteins in one or two servings of milk throughout the day, that would really be something,” she said. “So we went out and got food-grade filters and right there in our kitchen we started experimenting with the idea of filtering milk. And over many years, and using Mike, me and our four children as our test market, we developed the beginning of what today is now known as fairlife milk.”
The kitchen innovation is now produced at fairlife’s processing and bottling plant in Coopersville, Mich. The ultra-filtered milk goes into uniquely designed family-size 52-oz and single-serve 11.5-oz plastic bottles. The products started being introduced nationally in January in four varieties: 2% reduced fat, chocolate, fat free and whole. Priced at a premium because of the added nutritional value, fairlife is typically merchandised in the refrigerated dairy case between organic milk and dairy alternatives.