Peter McClure: Fonterra head says light-proof bottle doing well

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Light damage occurs long before milk is in the fridge. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Light damage occurs long before milk is in the fridge. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The editorial headlined "Fonterra losing its bottle over failed container" presented a number of inaccurate statements about consumer sentiment, which paint a misleading picture to your readers.

On one thing, you were right: your assessment that we thought milk in a light-proof bottle "would be a hit". While it's early days, the facts show that Kiwis are supporting Anchor milk in the new bottle.

Be assured that our feet are firmly on the ground and we are not, as suggested, "on another planet". Just over one month since launch, Kiwis are voting for Anchor milk with their purchasing decisions and their taste buds.

Sales are up 8 per cent year on year and 10 per cent from the immediate pre-launch period. This growth is particularly noteworthy in the context of declining milk consumption over a number of years. In addition, side by side in-store trials with over 40,000 New Zealanders nationwide have shown that more than 80 per cent prefer the taste of Anchor.

With regard to the observation that people can no longer see how much milk is left, we are guilty as charged. We understand consumer frustration that we have introduced what you describe as a "change in their morning routine". It takes time to get used to change.

However, the only way to protect milk from light damage is to block out all light. The trade off, however, is the inability to see how much is left.

So, is it a risk to introduce change to a tried and true product? And is it perhaps an even bigger risk to provide a solution to a problem people didn't know existed? Sure - but it's one worth taking. When you're the nation's largest dairy company, you have a responsibility to innovate and lead, especially when you know you can make milk better.

When people ask me why we solved a problem that didn't exist - the answer is easy. If you've ever opened the milk bottle and taken a sniff to decide if it's fresh or not, one of the things you're checking for is light damage.

You just didn't know it. Light damage is what produces that "off" smell, which happens when it interacts with vitamins A and B2 and breaks them down. That process also degrades the nutrient content of your milk, not just the smell and taste.

Once your milk makes it to the fridge, it is fairly well protected from milk's two main enemies - heat and light.

But the damage from light has been done long before your milk makes it home, and the darkness of your fridge cannot undo it.

Milk is exposed to light as it travels from us to your fridge. Research, including work cited by Cornell University in the United States, shows that as little as two hours of light exposure can kick off the process of light damage. Once the process starts, it doesn't stop.

So, have we designed the latest Edsel as you claimed? The design of the Edsel was considered ahead of its time and is highly prized by collectors today. On that score, we are happy to be grouped in the Edsel's company. While the Edsel failed to resonate with consumers and ultimately was taken off the market, consumers are saying yes to Anchor milk in the new bottle.

You have suggested that if we "care about the country's reception of our product" we will withdraw the "container". Caring about our consumers and milk is the exact reason why the Anchor light-proof bottle is here to stay.

Giving Kiwis milk in a light-proof bottle is the only way to protect its fresh taste, deliver all its nutrients and give Kiwis another reason to drink more milk, more often. So far, it's working.

Peter McClure is managing director of Fonterra Brands.

- NZ Herald

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