Natrel and Java U open Canada's first milk bar

Will use popular Montreal coffee chain Java U as an innovation hub to test new dairy flavours

Natrel is milking a new partnership with a popular Montreal coffee chain.

The Agropur Co-operative brand has teamed with Java U to open the Natrel Milk Bar by Java U. Billed as Canada’s first milk bar, the shop is located in Montreal’s trendy Griffintown neighbourhood.

Designed in association with Natrel’s agency, lg2 Boutique, the Natrel Milk Bar features a black and white colour scheme and lighting fixtures that resemble milk drops; the cream station features branded Natrel dispensers offering seven varieties of Natrel milk and cream.

The seating areas are individual pods in the shape of milk cartons. The shop also features a boutique selling branded clothing and accessories such as t-shirts, mugs and thermoses.

“We really wanted it to mesh the Natrel and Java U proposition, and only an ad agency can do that,” says Caroline Losson, Natrel’s vice-president of marketing. “They really understood both the communication piece and the retail experience piece.”

READ: Agropur repositions Natrel milk brand

Java U executive chair Brian Cytrynbaum says the milk bar is intended to be a permanent addition to the chain that can potentially be extended into other markets like Toronto and Vancouver. “It has full commercial viability,” he says.

The initiative stemmed from an effort to harmonize the milk used at Java U’s 21 stores throughout the Montreal area. “We had been so unfocused on the milk offering we were actually using different in different stores,” he says.

Java U tested several dairy brands before determining that Natrel offered the best taste and texture, says Cytrynbaum. Java U originally contacted Agropur simply to ask permission to use the Natrel name in its stores’ cream stations, but discussions between the two companies progressed quickly.

Losson says the company had been keen to explore a retail concept for some time, but was unclear how to proceed until the discussions with Java U showed a way forward. “It was really meeting of the minds that turned out better than we had hoped for,” she says.

Losson says Natrel will treat the store as an “innovation hub” where it can test new dairy products such as flavoured milks. “We’ll be trying new flavours, new textures on a weekly basis,” she said. “A milk brand is not something very tangible for a lot of people, so it’s having that retail face and giving consumers the opportunity to taste new things.”

READ: Got (Maple) Milk?

Natrel currently offers seven products at the milk bar, including lactose-free milk and cream, fine-filtered milk, and flavoured products including Natrel Maple Milk. The company will rotate in other flavoured products, says Losson.

Agropur repositioned Natrel as a more natural product last year with a revamp that included new packaging, a new brand image and a revamped website offering consumers recipes and tips.

Losson says the milk bar enables Natrel to create a greater connection with its customers and symbolizes a new marketing approach for the brand. While TV remains Natrel’s leading tactic for creating consumer awareness, the brand shifted nearly 30% of its media dollars to digital last year – a strategy Losson says has been “working really well.”

The milk bar is being promoted via French and English YouTube videos and a new website.

Natrel is the market leader in the filtered milk category in both Quebec and Ontario, controlling a 45.4% share according to Nielsen. Its lactose-free products control 51% of the national market (excluding Newfoundland), while its organic milk product is third nationally with a 21% share (it is the market leader in both Quebec and Ontario, however, with a 57% and 31% share respectively).

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