By Connor Lynch
KEMPTVILLE — Fairlife’s pitch to Ontario producers was more sales pitch than information session.
The American milk company, currently building an $85-million facility in Peterborough in partnership with Coca-Cola Canada, turned up at the Eastern Ontario Dairy Days at Kemptville on Feb. 14. Fairlife’s products are “ultra-filtered” milks. Essentially, the company separates milk into all of its separate parts: Water, protein, fat, vitamins and lactose (sugar). Then, they make products by combining different ingredients in different ratios: High-protein products for athletic-types or lower sugar for health-conscious consumers.
But the presentation was mostly a sales pitch about the product and producers came away with few answers about the criteria to become a supplier.
Local producers welcome a new product. Osgoode-area dairy and cash crop farmer Dave McDiarmid was satisfied with the info on offer. “(Fairlife milk) seems like a great new product. It’ll bring some much-needed innovation to the dairy shelf,” he said.
The products have already made their foray into Canada, appearing on supermarket shelves and filled with American milk. Fairlife director Carolyn Novick, explained it was a “critical step” to build the brand here before the Peterborough plant is up and running and sourcing 100 per cent Canadian milk.
Novick made a strong business case based on fairlife’s (the company does not capitalize the f) strong sales in the U.S. With trade deals eroding market opportunities for producers at every turn, a desirable new product should also sell well here, she said. Coca-Cola hired market research giant Nielsen to probe fairlife’s market growth. Results were impressive, with strong early growth and higher-than average sustained growth. In over two-thirds of cases, consumers given samples of the products later bought them.
Meanwhile, fairlife also sent co-founder Sue McCloskey to Kemptville to share the story of the farm’s journey and story. McCloskey also hammered the point that milk, once one of the strongest brands in the world, is losing ground and the milk industry needs to take strong, unified steps to improve milk’s image.
With discussions ongoing, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and Coca-Cola reiterated much would remain confidential leading up to the targeted launch date of spring 2020. It wasn’t yet clear if there would be a separate pool of milk for fairlife, or what the exact requirements for producers hoping to ship to the plant would have to meet, save two. Somatic cell counts must be below 200,000 and bacteria counts under 10,000.
Some producers were concerned that the fairlife brand might compete with the blue cow that the DFO has been pushing. Novick wouldn’t say whether the blue cow would end up on the product. “We will absolutely make it crystal clear it’s local, Canadian milk,” she said.
Novick also stressed that Coca-Cola doesn’t make hopeful forays into markets to test the waters. “Coke is in it for 200 years.”
The fairlife plant will be an expansion of the Minute Maid plant, a division of Coca-Cola in downtown Peterborough on Lansdowne Street. The expansion will create 35 new jobs.