Coca Cola's Expensive "Milk"

At a critical stage of Apple’s negotiations to hire Pepsi’s John Sculley as their new CEO back in 1983, Steve Jobs clinched the deal by asking Sculley “do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”.


Pepsi’s arch-rival Coca Cola took note of the implied yet universal sneer. Since then sales of soda pop have declined fast as the US and the world wake up to the fact that over-sweetened carbonated drinks are not just bad for you, they are a significant contribution to the major chronic diseases that kill us today.

After decades of unsuccessfully tweaking fizzy syrup, Coke’s management came to accept that things had shifted. People wanted their food and drink to appear real, even if it wasn’t. Coke’s products had to appear "healthy" if the corporation was to continue charging consumers an excessive tithe for marketing the hell out of a worthless comestible. Since then the corporation has been on a quest for the new Big Idea. First it was water. After the air we breathe, you can’t really get much bigger than water. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could brand tap water and sell that at a premium? And lo, there was Daswani. Only trouble was, lots of other people bottled tap water and once people knew the dirty little secret. Who in their right mind wanted to pay a hefty premium to Coke?

What next? Why, of course, orange juice! Let’s re-engineer OJ. Now that the public have spotted the marketing tricks behind fruit concentrates and legally counterfeit juices let’s create an OJ which, technically, if not in fact, we can pass off as “the real thing” at our usual premium. Ker-ching! This time Coke got it right. They took real orange juice and processed it so that the residual liquid had an extraordinary shelf life. Then all that was needed was to re-introduce orange and other extracts to put back some of the flavor, aroma and nutrients of real oranges. Et voilà, ersatz at a premium price.

Now, if you think a glass of freshly pressed orange juice and Simply Orange are one and the same thing, then I have a bridge to sell you. And people are becoming less easily fooled.

So how to follow that? If Coke can do it to OJ, what other failing staple can they re-invigorate, re-engineer and sell at their customary premium. Milk! The lactic tipple that is pure Americana, the creamy nectar that the nation grew up on. Unfortunately, things are not what they were. Folks are drinking a lot less milk these days, largely because it’s been processed and just doesn’t taste like it used to. real (i.e. raw) milk being effectively an illegal substance and pretty much unobtainable. Nowadays milk-based products are pasteurized, homogenized and stuffed full of sugars, flavorings and are essentially a scalded long-lasting UHT substance that bears little if any taste or resemblance to the original liquid called milk that once-upon-a-time came from a cow that ate grass, lived in a meadow and was milked on a farm, as opposed to the mass horrors of milk extraction as performed by industrialized dairy farming.

And so it has come to pass that Coca Cola created the new milk and Fairlife was born…

Coke has teamed up with a dairy consortium, launching its own brand of milk earlier this month, which it crows will “rain money.” Fairlife costs more than twice as much as regular milk. Coke reckons consumers will be prepared to shell out more as it contains 50 percent more protein and half the sugar of normal milk with no lactose. Fairlife went on sale in selected US supermarkets, priced at $4.59 for a 52-ounce bottle compared to the national average of $2.18 for a half-gallon (64 ounces) of milk. It also comes in chocolate flavor.

It remains to be seen if the consuming public will buy. It’s already being described as ‘expensive science milk’ or as US comedian Steve Colbert puts it “Frankenstein lactates! Actually the milk appears to be coming from an altogether different part of the anatomy and, if early reactions to the slick but risible launch ad-campaign, already dubbed sexist and compared to a promo for a porn site, are anything to go by then Coke may have an uphill task. The ads feature an alluring caricature of a woman wearing nothing but milk splashes in the shape of a dress standing on a bathroom scale in a puddle of milk with milk appearing to explode from her backside, bearing the tagline “Better Milk Looks Good On You.”

Retro advertising at its best

Coca Cola are preparing to bet the company to persuade the consumer that the new milk is actually real milk, that it is better for you, that it is worth paying twice as much for, that it is ‘almost’ the same as organic milk, and that the cows are well fed and well cared for. Unfortunately none of the above is true and increasing numbers of US nutritionists are coming forward to say so.

Coca Cola has done to milk essentially what it did to orange juice. Re-engineered it, taking out those nutrients that don’t fit in with the marketing plan, then adding additional amounts of on-message extracts. Thus the lactose has been removed, with calcium and protein added. The whole concoction is then heated way above the normal levels for UHT milk so as to give a 9-month shelf life.

Lactose is an essential ingredient of milk and part of why real milk is good for you. Few people are actually lactose intolerant and lactose has suffered a bum rap. All milk, except what’s called raw milk, has been processed to some degree. Almost all of it has been pasteurized and that involves heating it which, depending on how high you heat it, progressively destroys the nutrients along with bacteria. Ultra High Temperature (UHT) processing means heating milk beyond 280ºF., not only killing all living organisms but destroying or altering most of the nutrients too. The result is burned milk, which tastes and smells nothing like real milk but never goes bad and doesn’t need refrigeration, which explains the proliferation of heavily sweetened and flavourd milk drinks in stores.

The problem with heating milk to such high temperatures is that having destroyed the enzymes, the milk becomes effectively indigestible and can lead to leaky gut syndrome and onto other serious illnesses. This and not lactose is the main reason milk does not agree with some people. But the dairy industry is not going to tell you that. It is an interesting but unstated fact that most milk sold in stores, including organic, is UHT but not stated as such on the label.

Lastly, Coke will have you believe their cows are well looked after and fed just like their organic sisters. It’s not true. They are raised indoors in a feedlot and fed on a diet of antibiotic enriched GMO grain and corn among other feeds, which absolutely does not include grass.

Who knows? Coke’s Fairlife milk may catch on and may even be an improvement on some of the other milk-based concoctions in the refrigerated aisle. But that’s not saying much. One thing is for sure though, this leopard won’t be changing its spots. Coke are still the masters of the game of selling you what’s ‘not the real thing’ at a premium price and happy to brag about it to the Wall Street Journal. Don’t be fooled - the Real Thing…. it’s not.