Declining milk consumption in Canada may hurt many industry players. But will injecting some creativity into the category help revive sales? Yes indeed.
Canadians are drinking less milk, but we’re not alone. “This decline in consumption is also occurring in other developed countries,” says Genevieve Latour of Dairy Farmers of Canada. “Change in demographics, product perception, high competition and innovation in the beverage category are influencing negatively in the category.”
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Milk, it seems, has gotten lost in the sea of new beverage options including yogurt drinks. Many people also associate milk only with calcium, and no other added nutritional benefits. Both factors appear to be having an impact on shopping decisions.
Canadian milk sales have fallen 2% in volume over the past year, says Nielsen, with no projected increase between now and 2018, according to a recent Euromonitor report.
Giving the white stuff a boost is no easy task. Milk already has high household penetration, says Euromonitor’s Svetlana Uduslivaia. “That is the first problem,” she says. “The other is that consumers are other products. Milk is primarily viewed as a breakfast accompaniment to cereal and tea, not a first-choice beverage.”
Changing consumer perception is the first step to changing behaviour. That’s the idea behind the recent “Milk Every Moment” marketing campaign, spearheaded by Milk West, a partnership comprised of provincial dairy associations in Western Canada.
The campaign was targeted at women aged 30 to 49, the primary shopper in the household, and “the role model who will, in turn, encourage the rest of the house to consume milk,” says Liz Gurszky from the B.C. Dairy Association.
“First, we need to remind consumers of the goodness and taste of milk,” she says.
In supermarkets, the campaign aimed to create a positive image of food pairings, such as the tradition of cookies and milk. Signage was rolled out in Safeway stores while coupons for both milk and cookies together were made available on grocers’ websites.
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Putting up promotional signage for milk throughout the store is “reminding consumers to physically go to the category and look at offerings,” says Jason Dubroy at Toronto ad agency ShopperDDB.
But it’s not all uphill for milk. White milk may be struggling (sales are down 2% in unit volume for the 52-week period to Aug. 24, 2013 in all channels in Canada, according to Nielsen) but other types of milk are holding their own.
Chocolate milk volume was up 1% in the past year, according to Nielsen, while banana-flavoured milk sales in dollars rose by 4%, though down 1% in volume.
Single-serve “on-the-go” milk products are also putting some excitement into the category. Saputo’s Milk2Go aims to capitalize on both the demand for on-the-go solutions and protein-based beverages with the recent launch of a new sports variety.
Highlighting the fact that many post-workout drinks contain unhealthy ingredients, Saputo is hoping its mixture of fresh milk and protein will drive growth.
Consumer education is imperative, says Gurszky. “Studies have proven that chocolate milk is a good post-workout recovery drink, so we need to get that message across to consumers who are now more accustomed to grabbing other energy drinks.”
Another area for growth is in the niche milk segment. Lactose intolerance and interest in alternative dairy products have contributed to a rise of 7% in value in 2013, according to Euromonitor.
Goat’s and organic milk are also enjoying positive sales. Meanwhile, in a bid to attract shoppers’ eyes to on-shelf offerings, brands such as Liberté have rejuvenated their packaging with an emphasis on milk’s natural and fresh ingredients.
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Enticing shoppers to spend more time with milk in stores is also being tackled.
“The milk category has not really changed in the last 50 years, with consumers on almost autopilot by the time they get to the aisle,” says Dubroy.
Sobeys, for example, has taken the white stuff out of the milk aisle and placed it in standalone wheeled fridges. Each fridge carries the “Milk Every Moment” campaign slogan, plus a stylish photo of milk and cookies together.
Other stores have placed signs on dairy fridge doors with photos of a glass of milk and cookies to remind consumers to load up on the white stuff (and perhaps to grab some cookies, too).
“We will not be able to reverse the decline in milk sales overnight,” says Gurszky, “but I believe all of the efforts by the industry, from retailers to farmers, will help put milk back on the agenda in time.”
After all, milk–like eggs and bread and other perennial staples–isn’t going away. It’s as basic as that.