While Nestle and Fonterra both have joined the A1-free milk protein movement, skeptics remain. To that, The a2 Milk Company welcomes additional research. In the meantime, Blake Waltrip, chief executive officer with The a2 Milk Company, says, “Tasting is believing.”
Has The a2 Milk Company been looking at the self-diagnosis of dairy intolerance or digestion issues as a whole?
About 25 to 30 percent of U.S. consumers self-diagnose themselves with a dairy intolerance, either lactose or protein. They perceive themselves to be lactose intolerant and have this thought process, “If I have a dairy intolerance, I must have a lactose intolerance.”
That is my perception.
Dairy intolerance overall is what we’re addressing to, and we believe that the building body of evidence on the benefits of A2 protein could really benefit a lot of consumers who have previously walked away from dairy.
What ethnic groups benefit most from the A2 protein?
I don’t think there’s any clear research that points to the fact that one ethnic group benefits more. We do know that Asian populations tend to have a high level of perceived lactose intolerance. In addition, Hispanics, African-Americans, Indians, and those from Southeast Asia have high-perceived lactose intolerance to dairy products.
In the U.S. alone, about 75 million people self-proclaim to have lactose intolerance. Unfortunately, most people never bother to get tested or understand if they are truly lactose intolerant; they just assume that is the case.
We believe that the research is building a body of evidence that the A2 protein could benefit a significant number of people who have issues with dairy intolerance.
Talk about your company’s recent press release calling out U.S. dairy organizations for not endorsing the A1-free milk protein concept.
We view ourselves as a2 Milk, and we want to be a good standing member of the dairy community here in the U.S., just as we are in other countries. When we reached out to the National Dairy Council, we were met with less than a warm embrace. I think that interaction is based on some sort of irrational fear that this product is going to denigrate milk. That is not what we are trying to do.
We’re trying to actually bring people back to dairy. Unfortunately, sometimes with legacy-based thinking, fears about what may happen outweigh the potential for positive change. We are viewed as a disrupter in the industry. This product is truly a natural innovation. It’s incumbent upon us to go out and invest the money to provide the base level of science that gives people the comfort that there is truly a benefit from this product.
You’re right, not everybody is a believer.
It’s really important to put this out there: Just because The a2 Milk Company funds a study that’s independently peer reviewed and independently published, we are not influencing a study that we fund.
Consider this analogy.
If people claimed that every clinical trial funded by each pharmaceutical company is invalid simply because the company funds it, then I’m not sure where we would be on drug availability that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves.
The fact that The a2 Milk Company goes out and funds studies that are Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved, and that are then ultimately independently peer reviewed and published, is important to put out there. The most recent one was an independently peer-reviewed and published article in the Nutrition Journal in the United Kingdom, a widely respected scientific journal.
Talk more about the market potential.
It’s important that the science is one side of this. However, the consumer experience is probably the more important side. When you have so many people who are trying a2 Milk’s product and then finding out that they can drink milk and have no issue at all, to me that is more important to us than anything else.
We’re really a pioneer here in the U.S. that is developing a new category within fluid milk. That category is the A1-free category.
Long term, I firmly believe that we are going to have a significant subsegment of the U.S. fluid milk category that will be A1-free. And we are in the enviable and unenviable position right now of pioneering that category. As a result, you have to be willing to take some of the criticism that comes along with that.
We take to heart the comments that this is an untested proposition, but it is simply not true. Think about global validation.
Recently, Fonterra, one of the biggest global dairy companies, has come in and adopted this product in full force. We also have Nestle, one of the biggest dairy nutrition companies in the world, that recently launched an infant formula in China based on the A1-free milk protein concept. Those are pretty big external validations by major players that the A2 protein has a unique benefit.
We would like to see the National Dairy Council be willing to look at this and have the U.S. dairy industry understand that this is truly a potential product that can bring people back to the fluid milk category in the U.S.
We don’t think that we are going to be the only company and brand offering A1-free milk. Our brand is a2 Milk, but the category is the A1-free segment.
Our hope as a business is that we’re building brand equity and building trust with consumers because we deliver a very clean and pure product to the marketplace, and that consumers will see the difference in our product over time. Make no mistake, I believe this will become a significant subsegment of fluid dairy milk.
Are there any concerns when promoting the A2 protein that you will create a “good versus bad” milk category?
Here’s our goal: To create an A1-free segment that will sit beside conventional milk and offer a significant number of U.S. consumers the opportunity to come back to dairy. Ultimately, dairy farms are going to benefit from having more milk demand in the marketplace. We are not trying to vilify milk; we’re actually trying to grow the overall consumption of milk in the U.S.
If you think about this dairy category, fluid dairy milk consumption has been declining 7 percent annually for the past few years and falling overall for nearly 20 years. Those are big numbers, and plant-based beverages have taken up some of that slack. Then, you have some people who just literally left dairy altogether. This concerns me as plant-based beverages do not have the nutritional equivalency of dairy milk. Dairy milk is so much more nutritious. There’s a reason dairy is on the USDA’s Food Pyramid as something you should consume everyday.
Do you welcome independent research?
We would welcome anybody to do their own study. Right now there is a study, funded by the New Zealand government, that is looking at the differences of A1-free milk versus conventional milk. That study also will focus on consumers who diagnosed themselves as lactose intolerant. We welcome more such research.
Any last thoughts?
Tasting is believing.
I encourage everyone, particularly those people who have some sort of dairy intolerance, to go out and try our product. We have a wealth of information on our website, a2Milk.com. If people want to know where they can find it, there is a store locator on our website, and they can go try it for themselves.
First article: A2 milk has caused quite a stir