Major media outlets have been forecasting the death of dairy after Dean Foods and Borden both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In making dairy’s doomsday prophecy, those journalists completely missed out on the Coca-Cola Company’s big bet on fluid milk.
This January, the world’s largest soft drink bottler became the sole owner of the fairlife brand by purchasing the remaining 57.5% of the company from its original joint venture partner Select Milk Producers. Innovative from its very birth, fairlife LLC entered the marketplace in 2012 with its high-protein milkshake called Core Power. Its grand slam product came two years later when its ultrafiltered milk, known simply as fairlife, reached store shelves.
This immediate winner has been garnering double-digit growth every year. Just this past year, sales surpassed $500 million . . . approaching half the receipts of the Borden company that’s been selling dairy products for 163 years. The company that controls more than half of the world’s market for carbonated soft drinks made the investment because it knows today’s consumers want healthy foods — but those foods must be convenient.
“Coca-Cola has 20 $1 billion brands, and fairlife will soon be the next,” predicted Mike Saint John at an October 2018 dairy industry gathering. And Saint John should know, as he was on the team that brought Coca-Cola’s Simply Orange to the marketplace, which is now one of those $1 billion brands.
A “glass half full” perspective takes investment. To that end, fairlife also launched its product in Canada and built a plant in Ontario. To expand its production capabilities stateside, it began constructing a new facility in Goodyear, Ariz., to go with plants in Cooperville, Mich., and Waco, Texas.
For decades, the old model for fluid milk processors involved buying market share. There was none better at that mantra than Dean Foods that gobbled up regional fluid processors. However, those aging plants, straddled with legacy costs, are no longer cash cows. That situation, when combined with lack of innovation, toppled both Dean Foods and Borden.
Will Dean Foods and Borden plod along with their same old tactics after emerging from bankruptcy, or will they look to place innovative products in the dairy case? If it is more of the same for these two legacy dairy processors, they will suffer the same fate as the once famed retailer Sears, which eventually lost out to the likes of Walmart and Amazon.