ANAHEIM, CALIF. — A recent boon in consumer demand for butter left Organic Valley with a surplus of skim milk. The La Farge, Wis.-based business, which is part of CROPP Cooperative, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers, spun the oversupply into a successful product launch.
|Eric Newman, v.p. of sales for CROPP Cooperative and Organic Valley|
“A cow only produces milk with 4% butterfat, so for every 100 lbs of milk, there’s only 4 lbs of fat,” said Eric Newman, vice-president of sales for CROPP Cooperative and Organic Valley, in an interview with Food Business News. “The only way to generate more butterfat is to sell more skim milk. Skim milk is just basically pure protein, so as we looked at the need to generate more butterfat from our product mix, we said, ‘How can we sell more skim milk and in what form?’”
Using ultra-filtered skim milk, the company launched a pair of protein shakes, Organic Balance and Organic Fuel. The latter became the top-selling organic protein shake across all grocery channels last year. Organic Balance, developed as an on-the-go meal replacement, has 16 grams of protein, and Organic Fuel, a muscle recovery shake, has 26 grams of protein. The products are gluten- and lactose-free and made with U.S.D.A. certified organic ingredients with no antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or genetically modified organisms.
“The protein craze is the perfect moment for us to launch Balance and Fuel,” Mr. Newman said. “They were right on target from a consumer trends perspective, and at the same time we were highly motivated to produce those and sell as much as we could because it generates butterfat for us.”
Representing approximately 1,800 farmers in 35 states, CROPP Cooperative produces organic dairy products, eggs, soy, produce and meat products under Organic Valley and Organic Prairie brands, which are sold in supermarkets, natural foods stores and food cooperatives nationwide. The cooperative, which has been independent and farmer-owned since 1988, surpassed $1 billion in sales last year.
At Natural Products Expo West, held March 10-13 in Anaheim, the cooperative featured a range of new products, including Organic Valley Grassmilk yogurt, a premium, cream-on-top yogurt made with 100% grass-fed milk, in plain and vanilla flavors. The product line follows the launch of Organic Valley Grassmilk 100% grass-fed milk two years ago.
“We’re going to be adding more Grassmilk items on in the portfolio because it’s doing well, and we’ll probably be adding additional categories,” Mr. Newman said. “Organic milk is definitely better for you compared to conventional. Grass-fed milk has a perfect balance of omega-3 to omega-6, so you’re going to see continued interest in developing that.”
The brand also is relaunching organic flavored coffee creamers in french vanilla and hazelnut varieties.
“In the last three years, there have been introductions of flavored creamers from real cream, but no one was doing it organically, so we launched that, but during that time of limited supply and shortages of butterfat, we had to discontinue the items because we just didn’t have enough butterfat to service our existing markets,” Mr. Newman said. “It was amazing how many consumers wrote us and were disappointed they couldn’t buy those flavored creamers. We’re bringing them back because we’re selling more Balance and Fuel that allows us to package more cream.”
Another new item is Good to Go, a ready-to-drink, single-serve organic milk for adults in low-fat white and low-fat chocolate varieties. Ideal for convenience stores, drug stores and gas stations, the products are shelf-stable and may be shipped without refrigeration.
“It’s addressing a different age segment than the little single-serves with a straw… and it’s the very first organic, shelf-stable plastic-bottled milk in the U.S.,” Mr. Newman said.
From Organic Prairie, the cooperative’s organic meat brand, comes Mighty Bar, the first certified organic 100% grass-fed beef meat snack, Mr. Newman said. With 8 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fat per 1-oz. bar, varieties include cranberry sunflower seed and bacon apple.
“Our meat business is a much smaller part of our business. It’s only about a $20 million brand, compared to Organic Valley, which is close to $600 million this year,” Mr. Newman said. “We needed something a little more millennial-focused, that would fit into the consumer trends with protein… It’s also part of the snacking trend. How do you get a healthy snack rather than eating a bag of chips? Have something like a meat bar, which satiates your hunger and gives you protein and is just better for overall health. Snacking is that trend we’re playing off of with the Mighty Organics line of products.”
In its 27-year history, CROPP Cooperative has a track record of forecasting demand for organic raw materials, Mr. Newman said.
“When you’re bringing on organic milk, you’re looking out three years, so how does one guess how much you’re going to sell three years from now?” Mr. Newman said. “You have to be cautious, but you also have to respond to what you see in the market…“We feel confident to grow because we understand the growth we’ve had over 27 years, and we have a really diverse portfolio in the way we sell. We sell branded products, we sell private label products, we do ingredients, and we even ship bulk tankers of milk to customers. Because we have all these different ways to sell our milk, that gives us security of the different markets to keep growing.”