One firm convinced there is an untapped opportunity in the fluid milk market is Live Real Farms (a brand owned by dairy co-op Dairy Farmers of America), which has launched Dairy Plus milk blends: a new line of lactose-free milks featuring 50:50 blends of oatmilk/dairymilk and almondmilk/dairymilk.
Featuring 6-8g sugar and 5g protein per serving (compared with around 13g sugar and 10g of protein for regular dairy milk), the products promise the taste and nutrition of dairy milk with less sugar, and fewer calories, says Live Real Farms, which is testing the products in selected retailers in the Minneapolis area including Walmart, Fresh Thyme, and Cub Foods ($3.99-$4.69).
“Knowing 42% of consumers purchase both dairy and plant-based alternatives, these lactose-free drinks combine the best of both options, offering the great new tastes people love, enhanced with the wholesome goodness of milk, and just the right amount of sweetness…"
Purchase intent scores were 'really high'
Rachel Kyllo, SVP of growth & innovation at Live Real Farms, told FoodNavigator-USA: "The target for this product is millennial families that have always used dairy but are now experimenting with alternative beverages.
"We're presenting this to consumers as a unique new milk blend that combines what you love about dairy milk, which is creaminess and natural protein, with what you love about plant-based beverages, which is taste and lower calories, and we brought them together to create a brand new taste sensation. It's very refreshing and light but satisfying, and the purchase intent scores were really really high."
She added: "It has the creamy texture of dairy with the flavor of almond or oats, and consumers thought it had a really interesting new taste profile. What gave us the confidence that this had significant marketplace potential, was that when we showed consumers the concept and they tasted it, and we asked them how it might fit into their lifestyle, they said they could see themselves drinking it out of the glass, pouring it on cereal, adding it to coffee as a creamer, or putting it in smoothies, so it was really versatile."
Retailers, meanwhile, are looking for innovation in the fluid milk category, she said. "They are looking for new ways to excite consumers in the category and we've had very positive feedback."
Brand new taste
Asked whether hybrid milks could meet the same fate as ‘mid-calorie’ sodas, which combined sugar and high intensity sweeteners to provide a half-way house between full sugar and diet products, and were not a success, she said:
"I don't think it's a great analogy as I think we are not trying to live in between, we're trying to deliver something brand new. A lot of consumers live in this flexitarian world, so we think this is a way to deliver a new product to consumers that are shifting in terms of what they buy and eat."
She added: "We're planning a regional roll out this fall or at the end of the year, as soon as we get a good read on our tests, and our goal is to build a national business."
The best of both worlds, or an unsatisfying compromise that doesn’t please anyone?
So is this a win-win – and an incremental growth opportunity for retailers - or the dairy equivalent of Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True (the aforementioned, ill-fated mid-calorie sodas)?
"The idea of mixing dairy and non-dairy milks is something consumers are already doing for a multitude of reasons," Dr Rachel Cheatham at food and nutrition consultancy FoodScape Group, told FoodNavigator-USA.
"I think this mixing is naturally happening on the usage occasion level, although I’m not sure to what degree the consumer is really demanding this on the single product level.
"At the end of the day, this hybrid product concept may gain early traction among dairy-loving consumers in transition, but it may end up inspiring more consumers to go fully plant-based in their milk choices over time."
Innova: 'Consumers are likely to give products like this a look if there is a 'better health' case for doing so'
"It seems that a large part of the motivation to market hybrid products comes from the need to ship more product, not necessarily the need to meet consumer needs," claimed Tom Vierhile, VP strategic insights, North America, at Innova Market Insights.
However, he added: "The good news is that consumers are likely to give products like this a look if there is a 'better health' case for doing so. According to a 2019 consumer survey by Innova Market Insights, nearly 49% of US consumers said that their reason for buying alternatives to bread, meat, or dairy products is that the product is 'healthier.'
"This provides dairy producers with some wiggle room to experiment with new hybrid products provided that those products do offer some tangible and quantifiable health benefits above and beyond those of regular dairy... Whether this is enough to close the deal with consumers remains to be seen."
Live Real Farms' Dairy + Almond Original Milk Blend contains 70 calories, 6g sugar and 5g protein per serving (compared with 130 calories, 13g sugar and 10g protein per serving of 2% dairy milk)