Fluid Milk Needed A Spark And fairlife Provided It

  • 3 min read January 2, 2019
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

There are few farmer meetings or conversations where the state of fluid milk doesn’t come up. The category has been in decline for longer than any of us care to remember and farmers are understandably looking for a ray of hope.

Fairlife Bottles

Fortunately, we have that in fairlife, which is showing what is possible for fluid milk though innovative products and packaging. fairlife launched in 2015 with partnership support from Dairy Management Inc. At the end of 2018, our partnership ended as fairlife is well on its way to becoming a $420 million national milk brand, tripling its debut value. The company’s success has exceeded our expectations, and I’m guessing those of dairy farmer founders, Mike and Sue McCloskey, too. 

We heard from Sue and Mike Saint John, who is CEO of fairlife, at our joint annual meeting at the end of October.  Mike has been involved with fairlife from the start, as he was previously president of the Minute Maid Business Unit at The Coca-Cola Company, and Minute Maid handles the sales and distribution for fairlife.

Sue shared an insightful story of fairlife’s journey, from concept to reality. But what really impacted us was hearing of the thousands of letters and emails she’s received from customers, including many who have found their way back to the milk category. The stories showed how people are connecting functionally and emotionally with fairlife and how so many are now repeat customers.

I can’t state enough how much Sue and Mike McCloskey are encouraging the rest of the industry to look at fairlife as a model to follow. They are very much farmer-first innovators and leaders who want to see success for the entire industry.

Mike Saint John spoke of Coca-Cola’s commitment to health and wellness, which he said is a $20 billion category for the company. He sees value-added dairy products, such as fairlife, as an untapped area for Coca-Cola. He has worked closely with the company’s Simply Orange line, which has rejuvenated slumping juice sales and he is confident the same can happen for milk.

He also got our attention when he shared how fairlife is growing dollar sales faster than all other value-added dairy segments and that 55 percent of its volume is taking share from plant-based, juice, water, tea and sports drinks. In fact, fairlife has grown faster than the plant-based milk alternative category for the past three years. This clearly shows the power of real dairy and that its health and wellness value is alive and well with today’s consumer.

Fluid milk is our foundation and our heritage, and it is ripe for innovation and meeting consumers’ evolving needs. Despite the downward trend we’ve seen, it is important to remember that fluid milk is still a $25 billion business. Lactose-free, flavored and whole milk are $1 billion or greater categories, and each achieved growth this year. And, milk is still purchased by 95 percent of American households over the course of a year.

Yes, there still is much work to be done with fluid milk but we first needed a spark. fairlife has delivered just that.

If you have any questions about our fairlife partnership or fluid milk work, feel free to leave a comment below or you can reach out directly to me at talktomarilyn@dairy.org. You also can join our new Dairy Checkoff Farmer group on Facebook.