Milklab’s specialty range

Milk alternatives have become such a common part of the coffee landscape that they no longer exist to simply cater to people with specific dietary needs, but are often now chosen as a matter of personal taste and even to match with certain flavours for improved results. To cater to this growing market, Australian company Freedom Foods created Milklab, the first ever milk brand to develop every key milk type being used in specialty coffee and craft a specific formula exclusively for the specialty coffee channel. Launched in November 2015, Milklab’s range includes almond, coconut, soy, lactose-free and regular dairy milk. While the Australian coffee market is well-known for being particularly open to new products that enhance the coffee experience, the makers of the Milklab range have big plans to push their product around the world. In fact, while most of their efforts so far have been focused on establishing Milklab in Australia, Freedom Foods has found enthusiastic markets for the range in Malaysia and Singapore, where the range has been sold since late 2016. “Over the next 12 months we’ll stay focused on driving engagement in the Australian market, while we establish distribution in new export markets to complement the buzz we’re seeing in Malaysia and Singapore, which has now been distributing Milklab for the past few months,” Freedom Foods’ Marketing Manager Angelo De Blasio tells Global Coffee Report. So far, Milklab has experienced significant success in its home market, winning a swag of awards. Launched in November 2015, the range has been recognised with wins and nominations at the Fine Foods Australia Show (Winner Best New Product), Melbourne International Coffee Expo (Finalist for Product Innovation Award), Australian Dairy Awards (Gold – Lactose-Free Dairy), and Australian Dairy Awards (Silver – Dairy). In order to develop a range of milks that stood apart from the competition, De Blasio says his team worked extensively with a range of industry professionals to make sure that the products would perform perfectly in a specialty coffee setting. “We spent a significant amount of time testing and validating our offer around the country. We did this until we got it right,” he says. “Everything from the ingredients, to the flavour profiles and even the packaging was done in consultation with some really influential baristas, roasters and Q graders.” While the majority of Australia’s specialty coffee industry tends to operate out of the two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne – De Blasio says that his team was focused on developing a product universal in its appeal.
“We needed consensus from every market, not just Melbourne and Sydney. “Every state isn’t exactly uniform in terms of the way they use, assess and make coffee. Getting everyone on board was critical, even the good old folks of Darwin, which is where we started our testing and validation journey.”
De Blasio adds that his team was always conscious that they were developing a product for a global industry, not just one market. “Every market is different. However, at the heart of specialty coffee around the world is a passion for quality and excellence that drives everyone who works within this special community. With our focus on functionality and marrying the right flavours to coffee, we’ve been able to really tap into this passion,” he says. “When other markets see this, they’re sold in a much more compelling way than just a regular old supermarket brand coming in and trying to jump on the barista bandwagon.” While the traditional milk alternative is soy, the arrival of other varieties such as almond and coconut milks has given a huge boost to the product segment. So much so, De Blasio says, that soy is no longer the milk alternative of choice, with Milklab’s almond now the leading seller in the company’s range. De Blasio says that this pattern is reflected both in cafés and on the supermarket shelves. “When you look at what’s happening in supermarkets, you understand the growth in the café sector,” he says. “Alternative milks have moved away from being for people who are sick – or have an intolerance. People are choosing to incorporate more balance into their diets – often this means less dairy, sugar, fats and other things they feel weigh them down.” De Blasio tells GCR that in the case of almond milk, for example, taste is the leading reason for growth. “All of these consumers were looking to move away from dairy, but thought soy was way too ‘beany’ so they limited their dairy intake instead of switching,” he says. “They now have a reason to buy into the category – many of them are still drinking dairy every now and then.” De Blasio says that the growing popularity of plant-based diets, and the recognition of the health benefits that go with them, are also driving the growth.  “Not only in the milk aisles of the supermarket, but also places like snacking,” he says. “This has been the case for the US, UK and Australia and we now see traces of this trend emerging throughout South-East Asia and the Middle East.” With such encouraging signs coming from the market, De Blasio says that his team was committed to creating a range that would suit consumers in a variety of contexts – with the focus being firmly on standing out in the specialty coffee segment. “Taste, texture and functionality,” he says. “Unlike retail brands that are quite married to the positioning of their products in supermarkets, for us it’s all about the coffee. Supermarket almond and coconut milk brands for example can be absolutely shocking when used with coffee. They separate when mixed with coffee; they use natural flavours to try and mimic dairy and are atrocious. “We’ve spent a significant amount of time developing a range that functions with all different coffee types, light, medium and dark roasts, and complements the coffee instead of trying to overpower it.” As they continue to roll out across Australia and build towards a broader international launch, De Blasio says that the growth in coffee alternatives is also serving as a boon to the Milklab range. “More and more cafés are encouraging baristas to play around with some limited edition beverage ideas that draw in some novelty for the consumer – something a customer can try once or twice to change things up, whether this is a green matcha latte, yellow turmeric latte or, my favourite, the red velvet beetroot latte. We have a range that’s pretty complementary to all of these areas.” GCR

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