DFA shelf-stable milk now sold in China

Written by Christine Bush

Consumers in China have greater access to one of the most nutritious products America has to offer, thanks to the efforts of Dairy Farmers of America’s members and leaders. This past May, DFA’s shelf-stable California Gold milk began selling in stores in China and online in July.

California Gold milk is different from milk sold in the United States because California Gold is treated with an ultra high temperature (UHT) process, which allows it to be stored without refrigeration until it is opened. The milk, packaged fresh, has a shelf life of one year. Once the seal is broken, it will maintain its quality as long as standard, refrigerated milk.

For a number of years, DFA’s strategy team has discussed building the Cooperative as a global business and how UHT milk could bring more value to members. In March 2013, DFA began assessing the Chinese consumer market through fact-finding discussions and meetings.

“It was obvious from the start that the team in China was interested in finding additional resources to bring high-quality, safe milk to Chinese consumers,” says Scott Aldridge, director of sales for DFA’s Consumer Brands division. “As the economic conditions are improving in China, one of the first things consumers want to do is add protein to the family diet.”

DFA is among the first American businesses selling UHT milk at a major U.S. corporation’s retail and club locations in China. When Aldridge traveled to China to manage the business plan, seeing the stores for the first time was a bit of a culture shock.

“We take for granted going into the dairy case in the United States and having plenty of options for fresh milk,” Aldridge says. “It’s the opposite in China where most fluid milk is shelf stable and sold on grocery store shelves in the center section of the store.”

Once customers expressed interest in selling U.S.-produced UHT milk to consumers in China, work began on several fronts. The DFA team decided on the name California Gold. All of the milk for the product comes from California member dairies. Aldridge says producing it in California made sense because of milk supply and the proximity to shipping ports.

Members of DFA’s marketing team began the task of deciding what the packaging would look like and what size package would work well. They worked with Chinese consumers and shared package ideas.

“In-home storage is different in China,” Aldridge says. “The refrigerators aren’t nearly the size of those in the United States. Instead of gallons or half gallons of milk, the largest size we are shipping is one liter [1.05 quarts]. Making sure we had the right product at the right size was really the first thing that we had to concentrate on to ensure we were delivering what the customer and consumer wanted.”

Aldridge says the marketing team took great care designing and testing the look of the container.  Customers suggested packaging with the look and feel of something coming off of a U.S. grocery store shelf. When asked, Chinese consumers expressed a preference for containers that consisted of lighter colors and images of pasture land and milk, along with USA and DFA banners. Everything written on the package is in English.

The screw-top container provides ease of opening and closing, and the top is angled slightly to reduce spills.