A period of evolution has taken place within the milk industry over the past few years. This previously dwindling staple has risen from the proverbial ashes and reasserted itself as the ultimate healthy drink. In short, milk is back in vogue - and thank goodness.
Branded milk has played a significant part in the category's changing fortunes. The likes of Cravendale from Arla Foods, Robert Wiseman's The One, and Milk Link's Moo - launched in 2002, 2003 and 2004 respectively - have carved a niche market for differentiated milk products in an attempt to steal a march on retail brands. These are slowly being superseded by added-value products like St Ivel Advance, enhanced with Omega-3, and Flora Pro-Activ, with its cholesterol-reducing properties.
Cravendale senior brand manager Thryth Jarvis comments: "Milk producers are tapping into the trend for 'health and well being' - this includes soya and organic milk as well as added value products - which drive incremental sales."
However not all of these markets offer a fail-safe launch platform. Arla Foods has yet to dip its oar into the organic sector but it has, unsuccessfully, tried and tested added-value products.
Atkins Nutritional milk launched last March following the popular response to the diet, but the product has since been pulled following Atkins' unceremonious fall from grace. Despite this setback, Arla has plunged straight back into the market with Lacto-free milk, launched in January.
The dairy-free category continues to grow and is dominated by fresh and long life soya alternatives to dairy milk. Soya milk accounts for 70% of the soya-based dairy free sector. Alpro is the biggest player, securing over half of the branded dairy free milk market.
Alpro's commercial director John Allaway comments: "Within the category the chilled range is experiencing the greatest level of growth, fuelled by the launch of new products, such as Alpro soya light - the first chilled unsweetened soya alternative to milk in the UK."
But it is organic milk that is witnessing the most dynamic levels of volume growth. Yeo Valley entered the liquid milk market 18 months ago with semi skimmed and whole milk varieties and it has seen volumes grow by 130% year on year to the beginning of 2006.
Robert Wiseman Dairies has also launched its own organic milk and in 2005 sales grew by 117%.
TNS figures to April 23, 2006 reveal the organic milk market is growing by 71.6% year on year, compared with 5% for conventional milk.
The only real problem with organic milk, at the moment, is that the market can't cope with demand.
Yeo Valley Organic marketing director Ben Cull explains: "The addition of organic milk has brought tremendous excitement to the liquid milk market.
"The strong levels of growth in 2005 did have a downside, however, in that by the end of the year demand had outstripped supply. This is a situation that is likely to continue for the next couple of years, until farmers who are currently in conversion obtain organic certification and the number of dairy herds increases."
Meanwhile branded milk will continue to come and go. Robert Wiseman is set to launch its latest model, Puriti, into the independent sector.
The milk - which is comparable to Arla's extended life Cravendale milk - has been exclusively available at Tesco for the past year but having passed its road test, Robert Wiseman sales and marketing director Sandy Wilkie says the time has come to roll it out to independents.