The country's leading dairy launched the drink, said to be 100 per cent lactose-free and with unparalleled, original milk taste, on the market in December 2003. Emmi has also held the rights to Valio's probiotic LGG strain since 1995.
The product, made by a patented manufacturing process, has already had strong success in Valio's key markets. The initial launch in Finland in September 2001 was quickly followed by introduction to Sweden at the end of 2002. Valio has also expanded the range to include lactose-free cream and yoghurt.
Valio claims the success is down to the 'real milk taste', in contrast with the sweetness of 'lactose-reduced' milk products. The company also suggests that lactose intolerance is more common than thought. The condition is a hereditary lack of lactase that usually develops in adulthood. Prevalence varies from one part of the world to another, with less than 10 per cent of Scandinavians intolerant to the ingredient but in other parts of the world, such as the Far East and Africa, the figure can exceed 90 per cent.
The Finnish firm will go head-to-head with soy milk, also consumed as an alternative to milk and currently experiencing rapid growth in Europe thanks to its health benefits, and fermented milk, which has been shown to eliminate or drastically reduce symptoms related to lactose intolerance.
The food intolerance and allergies market has experienced rapid growth in recent years, with a recent report from Mintel predicting that it will more than double in value by 2007 reaching £138 million (€202m) in the UK alone.
This is being driven partly by growing awareness of food intolerance among the medical profession but it has also become fashionable to avoid certain foods and ingredients, suggests the report. In addition, consumers are increasingly attracted to 'free from' foods to improve health, whether or not they medically need them.
Soya drinks dominate the European non-dairy drinks market, accounting for 86 per cent of total volumes, with rice drinks second and oat- and nut-based drinks also participating. Non-dairy drinks in Europe were thought to be worth €228 million in 2003, according to the UK's Organic Monitor.