By Gregory Daurer | Apr 26, 2021
Milk and dairy products
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the term "A1" signifies "of the highest quality." However, Waltrip wants consumers to "rethink their milk" and choose his brand, which is free of a protein called A1 and only contains a separate one named A2, which he considers far superior. "The A2 protein has been proven scientifically to cause less digestive issues for people," asserts Waltrip. For some folks, drinking a2 milk could mean less gas, less bloating, less stomach pain.
As Waltrip points out, all milk comes from cows -- and it all tastes like milk. But, overall, about 30 percent of cows produce milk with only the A1 protein, around 30 percent produce milk with only the A2 protein, and the rest produce milk containing both. Which means that, after those separate cows' milks have commingled at a dairy, the majority of commercial milk winds up containing some mixture of both the A1 and A2 proteins.
But that wasn't always the case. Around 8,000 years ago, it's believed a mutation occurred: The original beta-casein protein found in milk, A2, was now joined by A1, an "opiate-like peptide" which "cause[s] gut inflammation for many people," says Waltrip.
A dairy researcher in New Zealand, Dr. Corran McLachlan formulated the genetic test needed to identify A2-producing cows; thus, cows were eventually able to be milked separately, isolating pure A2 milk. Today, the a2 Milk Company has a total market share in Australia of 11.7 percent of all liquid milk sales. The a2 Milk Company has also made headway into China as a result of the 2008 Chinese milk scandal, which left consumers wary of domestic sources of infant formula. "We're called The a2 Milk Company, but we're really a dairy nutrition company," adds Waltrip.
In 2015, the company expanded into the United States, selecting Boulder, Colorado ,for its headquarters, since that location is the "center of the natural food industry," says Waltrip. The following year, the company recruited Waltrip -- who had previously worked for Nestlé and Celestial Seasonings -- to head its U.S. operations.
In addition to funding scientific studies in China and Australia, the company also co-funded research at Purdue University in Indiana that was published in the December 2020 edition of scientific journal Nutrients. One of the study's authors, Dr. Dennis Saviano is quoted in an a2 Milk Company press release as saying, "The primary advantage for some people in drinking milk with only A2 protein appears to be overall reduced stomach discomfort. Many people don't feel bloated or feel stomach pain after drinking a2 Milk."
But skepticism is often directed at companies which provide funding for research that could enhance their own bottom lines. Waltrip counters, "If pharmaceutical companies did not fund the clinical research to identify the effectiveness of their drugs, there wouldn't be any new drugs out there. Really, who else is going to fund the research, in a large part, but the company?" He adds, "We don't have an influence over these research studies: These are done independently even after we fund them."
The previous research has allowed the company to pass regulatory muster in issuing the claim -- as seen on cartons of a2's milk and creamer products -- "Published research suggests a2 Milk may help avoid stomach discomfort in some people." (People with milk allergies, on the other hand, are still urged to actively avoid any form of milk, the company notes.)
In the U.S., The a2 Milk Company works with farms in California, New York, and Texas to genetically identify A2-producing cows so they can be separated from the rest of the herd. "We pay our farmers a premium [compared with producing] traditional milk," says Waltrip, who further notes that the farms need to undergo Validus auditing to insure animal welfare.
The milk packaged in those three states gets ultra-pasteurized, giving it a shelf life of 70 days unopened -- and the products (including whole milk, reduced fat, fat-free, and coffee creamers) are shipped to outlets far and wide. "We've grown [the brand] from a test market in California to now being in over 22,000 retail stores, across multiple channels," says Waltrip. "We're in every state in the U.S."
Cartons of a2 can be found at chains like Walmart, Albertsons/Safeway, Kroger, Target, Costco, and Whole Foods. "We have a high degree of loyalty," says Waltrip. "So once we get a consumer into the brand, they tend to stay in it, and come to see it as a better milk."
He adds, "It's very rare that you're able to find things that are naturally occurring that are innovative like this. And that's the beauty of the a2 Milk proposition."
Challenges: "The biggest challenge we face right now is getting more people into the franchise," says Waltrip. However, he adds, "Once people experience a2, we tend to keep them in the brand."
Opportunities: Waltrip sees massive potential for his company, since the U.S. is the "largest fluid milk market in the world." Additionally, the company plans to introduce additional products, besides just coffee creamers, incorporating its A2 milk. So Waltrip says the opportunity is "to take this product into multiple categories in the U.S. . . . building out across multiple propositions."
Needs: Waltrip says, "The need is for us to continue to build enough education and awareness as to why consumers should care about a2 milk and the A2 protein. It just takes a little bit of explanation for people to realize, 'This is really something I should try.'"