Maple Hill’s Zero Sugar Organic Ultra-Filtered milk, which launched this summer, is the first of its kind to offer consumers the uncompromised taste and nutritional profile of dairy milk they want, but without any of the sugar, carbs or added sweeteners in competing products, according to company CEO Carl Gerlach.
“Back in 2018, we started hearing a lot about sugar consumption during our focus groups. … Many of them told us they were desperately looking to get the sugar out of their diets, and at this point, for a lot of them, milk was one of the last places where they get a lot sugar in their bodies. And they didn’t want it anymore,” Gerlach told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained that “a cup of milk has 12-grams of sugar and that sugar has absolutely no metabolic, physiological benefit to the human body. It’s just empty calories. It doesn’t even impart much sweetness.”
So taking it out was a no-brainer. At least in principle, he said.
“When I first sat down with the R&D team and asked if they could get the sugar out of milk, they looked at me like I had three heads,” Garlach joked. “But then they thought about it and said, ‘I think we can figure it out.'”
A year and a half later, the team perfected what Garlach called Maple Hill’s “soft-filtering process,” which first physically removes lactose – the sugar in milk – from the beverage without using lactase, and then adds minerals to enhance the beverage and ensure its “great taste” that consumers want without relying on sweeteners.
The company also relies on gellan gum to recreate some of the creamy mouthfeel that sugar contributes, and while Garlach acknowledges some gums have been demonized by the organic and natural shopper, gellan gum is a natural option with a long track record of safe use in many products in the natural channel.
“The amount that we use is infinitesimally low,” and helps suspend the minerals for a wholesome experience, he added.
Given consumers’ increasing concern about sustainability, Maple Hill saves the sugar that is removed from the milk and uses it other products – eliminating waste, Garlach adds.
Incremental sales increase
While there are other reduced-sugar milks, such as Fairlife, and sugar-free dairy products, such as Chobani Zero Sugar yogurt, Garlach said that Maple Hill is the first company to offer a zero sugar low-fat and whole regular dairy milk.
As a first-mover in the space, Garlach said that Maple Hill is reaping incremental sales to its grass-fed organic business.
“Households are bringing this to their family in addition to the products they previously purchased. So, it might be for a specific individual, it may be that somebody in the family is maybe diabetic or prediabetic or there might be concern about sugar consumption for one person in particular. And so, so the insight that we have is they are curating products that come into their household” and now they have an option which is an addition rather than replacement, he explained.
Given the success of the Zero Sugar reduced fat and whole milk, Garlach said that Maple Hill is exploring a “pretty robust innovation pipeline” that will build on and leverage the technology to offer consumers additional better-for-you options.
“The need that Americans have for eliminating sugar in their diet is extreme, and so for us, our focus is to continue to launch products that really do make a difference in the lives of American families,” Garlach said, adding: “That is what we have been doing since we started this business back in 2009 and we’ll just keep doing that.”