While most fluid dairy products have been packaged in the same jugs and cartons as they have been for decades – and are facing ever-eroding sales and consumption -- fairlife is taking the dairy case by storm.
fairlife co-founder Sue McCloskey shared “The fairlife Story” with attendees of the 2018 Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Annual Conference. Her insights showed how innovative thinking and customer focus drove the evolution of a revolution in U.S. dairy product development.
In the early 1990s, McCloskey and her husband, Mike – a veterinarian-turned-dairyman – were dairying in New Mexico. The couple was frustrated that their milk cooperative failed to embrace the high quality standards they had set for their milk at the time. “Their response was, ‘Good, that will help offset the more inferior-quality milk when we blend it,’” she shared.
The McCloskeys developed a direct-marketing relationship with grocery chain H•E•B, whose buyers were intrigued by their invitation to visit their farm and witness their quality milk production practices first-hand. “It was then that we learned the extraordinary value of transparency,” said McCloskey.
Soon after, they partnered with about 90 other like-minded dairy producers to form Select Milk Producers. Now the sixth-largest dairy cooperative in the country, Select Milk Producers supplies all of the milk that is processed and marketed under the fairlife label.
McCloskey said that the concept of fairlife milk actually was spurred when a supplier shipped them the wrong filters for their well water. “They said, ‘Oops, sorry, those have a different porosity.’ This got us wondering if milk could be filtered to have some components retained, just like impurities from well water,” she stated.
Fast-forward to the milk now found in attractively packaged fairlife containers in dairy cases all over the country. It contains 50% more protein, 30% more calcium, and 50% less sugar, than traditional milk. And it is lactose-free. fairlife milk also has a longer shelf life before it is opened, due to a unique, high-temperature pasteurization process. It is distributed and marketed by Coca-Cola.
McCloskey believes the enthusiastic reception that fairlife milk has received stems from delivering a customized product that meets consumer desires. The fairlife product portfolio now also includes specialized products to meet the unique needs of young children, teenagers, athletes and the elderly.
In 1999, the McCloskeys purchased at 10,000-acre tract of land in Indiana and established 5 dairy sites that now house 3,000 cows each. Soon after, they built the Fair Oaks Experience, a state-of-the art family entertainment and education center that has since expanded to include a Pig Adventure, Crop Adventure and Farmhouse Restaurant. A 100-room hotel will be added soon.
Fair Oaks Farms welcomes more than a half-million visitors per year, and allows the McCloskeys to share directly with consumers their values related to quality food production, animal care and environmental sustainability. “The importance of transparency that we learned in our early years has not changed,” said McCloskey.
Learn more about fairlife, its history, its products and its culture at https://fairlife.com/.