Most dairy cows produce milk containing A1 and A2 beta casein, which form around 30% of the total protein in milk solids.
However, The a2 Milk Company (a2MC) - which believes A1 is responsible for some of the abdominal discomfort reported by dairy consumers - has developed a genetic test to identify cows that only product A2 (approximately 30% of the herd), so their milk can be segregated.
The New Zealand-based firm, which is investing $20m over three years to fund its US market entry following moves into China and the UK, says its a2 milk has been greeted with “high levels of acceptance” from retailers in a market where it claims a quarter of consumers experience digestive issues after consuming milk - only some of which can be attributed to cow's milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
a2 milk - which will be sold in half-gallon cartons for $4.00-$4.50 with the strapline ‘The milk that might change everything’ – will arrive in several leading grocery stores from Kroger and Safeway to Whole Foods in April, supported by advertising, in-store demos, radio ads and a digital marketing drive, US nutrition director Bonnie Johnson, RD, MS, told FoodNavigator-USA.
It will also be exhibiting at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim next month (booth #6313).
Human study in EJCN links abdominal pain to A1 beta casein
While some critics – notably rival Parmalat - say a2 milk confuses shoppers and query the science behind its claims, there is a growing body of evidence to support them, argued Johnson.
“There are now more than 100 peer reviewed studies [in vitro tests, animal studies (read one example HERE) and one recent, but fairly small, human intervention study – published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition – click HERE] looking at A1 vs A2 and most show there are differences in response and that A1 is often the culprit behind digestive discomfort.”
While some consumers are severely allergic to milk protein – and choose to avoid milk altogether – many others experience milder digestive problems after consuming milk, she said. And while some may be intolerant to lactose (milk sugars), many report no alleviation of their symptoms after switching to lactose-free milks, suggesting A1 beta casein may be responsible for their symptoms.
Second time lucky in the US market?
a2 Milk was sold in the US under license in 2007 for less than a year in a small test market in the Midwest, says Jim Smith, marketing director, USA, The a2 Milk Company.
“The initial consumer response was positive; however, in 2008 there was a change in our strategic direction to shift from a licensing model to a branded product model – where we would have more direct control over its marketing, selling and product quality. Hence, we ended our US license agreements to focus on Australia, which was showing strong signs of early success.
“Fast forward to 2015, and The a2 Milk Company in Australia is a more established and scaled success story, and the time is right to re-enter the US market under a 100% owned subsidiary with all the necessary focus and investment required.”
Said Johnson: “We all know that there has been a steady decline in liquid milk consumption, which is worrying, especially for children, as milk provides so many essential nutrients.”
Dairy farmers and processors we’re working with in the US are excited by the opportunity
If a2 milk can remove one barrier to drinking milk then it’s a good thing for consumers and for the dairy industry, she said, which recognizes a2 as a means of adding incremental growth to a category that has been struggling and is looking for premium products to reinvigorate the category.
She added: “Dairy farmers and processors we’re working with in the US are excited by the opportunity. It’s a higher value, innovative product and it’s not seen as something that will cannibalize sales of regular milk.”
A2 cows are identified using non-invasive DNA test
Cows that naturally produce milk rich in A2 beta casein are identified using a non-invasive DNA test which analyzes a sample hair from the tail. These cows are then separated to form A2 herds and their milk is segregated in the supply chain, said Johnson.
But what about Jersey and Guernsey milk, which is claimed to be high in A2?
“While milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows is richer in a2 than milk from most dairy cows, a2 Milk is sourced exclusively from specially tested and selected dairy cows that produce milk containing only the A2 protein,” said Johnson.
“We are the only company that has a test to identify cows that exclusively produce A2 beta casein and then to ensure the milk we sell is just A2 milk.”
First half revenues up 38%
The a2 Milk Company generated revenues up 38% to 74.79 million Australian dollars (c. 59m US dollars) in the six months to Dec 31, 2014. Net profit after tax was 125,000 Australian dollars (c.USD 99,000).
Commenting on its US ambitions, the company said: “Whilst the opportunity is potentially nationwide, our phased entry plan is focused on achieving agreed milestones in the launch region prior to extending distribution into further state markets.
“Taking this into account, the Company will focus its selling activities in the West Coast region and base its administration activities in the centrally located State of Colorado in anticipation of further expansion over time.”