Arla believes the runaway success of its ‘Lactofree’ lactose-free brand can give the whole UK dairy sector a much-needed lift, and also strengthen its broader product portfolio.
Speaking to DairyReporter.com, Lactofree brand manager, Louise Allen said: “It’s vital to make a distinction between lactose and dairy intolerance, because the two aren’t equivalent.
She added: “Many people are not allergic to dairy per se, but to lactose. We’re adding value back into a dairy category that has – let’s face it – been fairly static for a number of year [in the UK] by tackling this prior negativity, building trust and convincing them to give Lactofree a try.”
“It’s about education on specific intolerances. Before people perhaps cut dairy out altogether, but now they realise that they are simply lactose intolerant,” Allen said.
Arla is set to launch additions to its Lactofree range this year, with Lactofree Spreadable butter available from January with an RRP of £1.60 (€1.92) for 250g, and a new ice cream also trailed.
Lonely lactose-free furrow
But despite the brand’s success since 2005 – in light of stiff competition between the so-called ‘Big Three’ in the UK dairy sector (Arla, Robert Wiseman Dairies and DairyCrest) – Arla is the only major processor to market a lactose-free brand.
This is somewhat surprising given that, according to Nielsen’s 52-week shopping data up to January 1, 2011, Lactofree is the fastest-growing brand in the milk category (35.6 per cent year-on-year growth) and (according to Allen) is worth £16.5m.
However, last November Robert Wiseman announced it was investing £2m in a joint venture with New Zealand firm a2 Milk, to introduce A1 beta-casein free milk onto the UK market this summer, targeting beta-casein (protein) rather than lactose intolerance.
Arla said it launched the butter due to demand from lactose intolerant UK consumers, who it said comprise around 15 per cent of the population.
In a statement discussing the spreadable butter launch, the company said: “Although other butter substitutes are available in this sector, some aren’t suitable for people with lactose intolerance (for example butter derived from goats’ milk) giving Lactofree its point of difference.
Citing Millward Brown market research from February 2010, Arla added: “Many [butter substitutes] also do not contain real dairy and therefore fail to compare to real butter on taste, with 58 per cent of consumers saying that Lactofree tastes better than other dairy alternatives.”
Special filtration technology
The existing Lactofree range already includes whole and semi-skimmed (fresh and UHT), hard and soft cheese, fruit yogurts and cream.
Asked about new additions to the range, Allen said: “We get requests all the time from consumers for additions to the range, but we have to be sure there is a market for products. A lot of our success is built on NPD, although we also have a big job to do cross-selling the current range.”
Over the past two years, Allen said Arla had focused its marketing efforts primarily on milk, to drive general awareness amongst lactose intolerant consumers.
Allen explained that the production process for Lactofree milk involves using proprietary filtration technology to cut out 50 per cent of lactose (the sugar found in milk), with the enzyme lactase then added to break down remaining milk sugars into digestible forms.
Lactose intolerant people – symptoms include bloating, flatulence, diarrhea and vomiting – are unable to produce enough lactase naturally to digest this sugar.