- The Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) launched a marketing campaign that encourages consumers to see ordinary dairy milk in a new light — complete with sleek, futuristic packaging. The product is being marketed as "Mülü," according to drinkmulu.com.
- The campaign appears to be geared toward the coveted millennial demographic, describing "Mülü" as a protein-rich alternative to sugary drinks that can give consumers energy before "late-night coding sessions," "before you meet the parents," or a "lazy Sunday movie marathon."
- The website also lists milk's nutritional benefits, including 10 grams of protein, no added sugars and more calcium than seven cups of broccoli. A disclaimer on the Mülü webpage states that the product is milk, and "Mülü will not be sold in stores, but milk always is."
For years now, the dairy industry has watched and worried as the plant-based milk craze erodes its share of the dairy case. Traditionally, the segment's response to these upstart nut, rice, pea, oat, hemp and other alternative milk brands has been aggressive, with dairy producers pressuring the FDA to bar plant-based companies from using the word "milk."
This stance is understandable, as non-dairy milk sales in the U.S. have risen 61% during the past five years and reached an estimated $2.11 billion in 2017, according to Mintel. Meanwhile, dairy milk's performance has curdled, with overall sales slumping 15% since 2012, reaching $16.12 billion in 2017.
In order to lure milk drinkers to the plant-based aisle, alternative milk companies focus a lot of their marketing, design and packaging spend touting the nutritional benefits of their product. Pea milk company Ripple even developed a retro-style 8-bit game to convince consumers that its formula was nutritionally superior to all other nut-based, plant-based and traditional dairy milks.
Shoppers have grown accustomed to these tactics and expect to see stats about protein, sugar and vitamin levels called out on the packaging of trendy milk alternatives. On the flip side, the average dairy milk is held in blank plastic jugs, with nothing eye-catching, save color-coded plastic caps.
With the Mülü marketing campaign, the DFA seems to be operating under a new understanding: if you can't beat plant-based milks, steal their branding strategies. The Mülü campaign imagines what it would be like if traditional dairy producers broke from their "humble" habits and debuted "shiny new packaging" like their plant-based rivals, suggesting that dairy milk would then take its rightful place as the true superdrink.
It's unclear if this marketing blitz will have any tangible impact on consumer perspective. The fact that Mülü won't actually be sold in stores probably weakens the campaign's potential power, as consumers can't enjoy the new packaging and nutritional call-outs in person. Still, if consumers respond well to the imaginary product on social media, it's possible that real dairy producers could roll out similar branding to differentiate and meet consumer demand for premium beverage offerings.
Regardless of what comes next, it seems savvy to try and mimic the branding strategies that have brought plant-based milk producers success, rather than try and knock them out of the ring. While a recent spending bill directs the Food and Drug Administration to work on new dairy standards of identity, it's not clear that it will make a difference. And even if the agency does restrict brands like Silk, Ripple and Mooala from describing their products as "milk," there's a good chance consumers won't care. Brand recognition and loyalty could very well be stronger than consumer attachment to the term "milk."