chocolate milk

At a time when the UK dairy industry is desperate to add value to milk, it’s worth taking inspiration from an extraordinary success story from New Zealand.

It was told to me (and 25 other grocery journalists) last week at the SIAL World Tour judging session, where The Grocer was among experts from around the world tasked with assessing the best in global food and drink innovation.

The source: Tania Walters-Mitchell of Supermarket News in New Zealand, a country in which fresh chocolate milk was an unknown product until late 2014, when a brand finally launched – and led the flavoured milk category after just six weeks.

Lewis Road Creamery Fresh Chocolate Milk is produced by independent dairy Lewis Road Creamery in collaboration with the popular Whittaker’s Chocolate. Unlike existing ambient products, it uses fresh milk and real chocolate; plus it features both suppliers’ names on the bottles, thus maximising brand recognition and consumer loyalty.

When the new fresh choccy milk launched in North Island in October 2014, people went crazy for it.

“No one could have predicted the mania this product produced,” Tania told us. “Everyone felt they had to have it.”

The hype was “unprecedented”, leading to retailers selling out and having to instigate a ‘one bottle per person’ rule for shoppers standing in queues marshalled by security guards. Shoppers desperate to get their hands on a bottle were forced to follow the brand’s Facebook updates to learn where the product was in stock. Some people created a ‘black market’ for the drink by auctioning it on Trade Me, the Kiwi eBay.

The fervid enthusiasm for Lewis Road Creamery’s new drink naturally led to substantial media coverage over the ensuing weeks – all of it free.

Now the brand is the category leader with a whopping 55% share, and production has risen from a thousand litres a week to 45,000.

The success has left its mark on other parts of the fmcg category too: New Zealand’s biggest retail phenomenon of 2015 was brand tie-ups, with anyone from ice cream to biscuit makers keen to get in on the ‘double branding’ act.

I found Lewis Road’s story thoroughly entertaining. It’s a terrific example of how something very simple – fresh milk and chocolate – can add up to something big, thanks to quick thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, and true collaboration. Plus, of course, a little luck.

“On launch, could the product just as easily have gone belly up?” I asked Tania.

“Yes,” she said. “Absolutely. It is only milk and chocolate.”