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A2 Milk exits UK market
By MARCUS STEAD
A BRAND of milk popular with people experiencing digestive problems is being withdrawn from the UK after seven years due to market conditions.
A2 milk began appearing on supermarket shelves in the UK and Ireland in 2012, initially as a joint venture between The a2 Milk Company and major British milk supplier Müller Wiseman Dairies, but in January 2014 the company acquired MWD’s stake for a ‘nominal’ amount.
The a2 Milk Company became hugely successful in New Zealand after difficult beginnings in the early-mid 2000s.
In its first year in Britain and Ireland, the company recorded £1 million in sales through 1,000 stores, and in 2014 it reported that it had 20 dedicated farms supplying milk for processing in the UK.
A2 milk is available as both whole and semi-skimmed, and is sold at a premium price of around £1.40 per litre carton, around 37% dearer than conventional milk.
Until last month, A2 milk was widely available in Asda and Morrisons supermarkets. It remains on the shelves in some Sainsburys and Waitrose stores, and can also be bought via online supermarket Ocado, who will continue to stock it until the company withdraws from the UK market at the end of November.
The company, which is now also active in Australia, the USA and China, selects cows that produce only the A2 protein by carrying out a simple DNA test on new-born calves using hair follicles.
The cows are then separated from the rest of the herd to ensure no cross-contamination, and tests are carried out on the milk before it is packaged.
In the USA, The a2 Milk Company frequently advertises on TV, but in the UK, awareness of the product spread mainly through word of mouth, via glowing online reviews, and in 2018 its taste was approved by the Good Housekeeping Institute.
The company says that originally cows’ milk only contained the A2 beta casein protein type, but following the domestication of cows, the A1 protein type emerged and spread through modern farming methods. Today, conventional cows’ milk contains a mix of A1 and A2 protein types.
Research carried out by the company concluded that the presence of the A1 protein is what makes milk difficult to digest for some people, including many who think they have lactose intolerance.
The study claims that when A1 proteins are broken down in the gut, they form a protein fragment called BCM-7, triggering inflammation and symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain.
However, the claims are controversial, and in 2018, Greg Miller, the chief science officer of the USA’s National Dairy Council said: “It’s just a theory at this point in time. There is no science that says that there’s any value in this A2 protein relative to conventional milk.
“The two studies that were done were with small number of subjects and looked at variables that don’t give us the answer we need to be able to tell whether or not this is really true.”
Because A2 milk is still 100% milk, it still contains lactose (milk sugar) and milk proteins, so those with a true lactose intolerance may not tolerate it any better than regular milk.
37 of 53 reviews on Ocado’s website gave A2 milk five stars. ‘joeavant’ backed up the company’s own research that suggests the product can help some who think they have a lactose intolerance: “Spent 7 years thinking I was lactose intolerant. Came across this on a program [sic] and thought I would give it a try…and never looked back since. So im [sic] not lactose intolerant at all, just dont [sic] get on with A1 protein milk.”
On the Morrisons website, ‘CBL’ gave A2 milk five stars, saying: “I was skeptical [sic] about this milk, but gave it a go. Myself and my kids have intolerances. We noticed the difference almost immediately, the little ones didn’t even realise I changed the milk as it tastes just like normal milk if not better. Highly recommended for anyone who has dairy sensitivities.”
The product began to disappear from supermarket shelves around early September. A company spokesperson said: “The a2 Milk Company made the difficult decision to discontinue A2 milk in the UK following a strategic review. The category conditions meant that developing a scalable premium priced fresh milk proposition was increasingly challenging.”
The company stressed its commitment to honouring its relationships with UK farmers, and their cows will continue to produce milk that will be combined with other cows’ milk when collected and processed, meaning it can no longer be considered pure A2 milk.
No other companies in the UK currently produce a milk that only contains the A2 beta casein protein type.
The a2 Milk Company spokesperson said: “The US is one of the largest consumer economies in the world with the largest liquid milk market globally.
“We have opted to prioritise our investment and focus on the markets with the greatest growth potential, and that is the US and our other key market, Greater China.”
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