Make milk great again: Fonterra trumpets the sound of science

After spending the early part of the summer weathering an onslaught of anger from the Lewis Road Creamery army (along with the wider dairy industry getting a smackdown after unsuccessfully complaining about a provocative Greenpeace campaign), Fonterra is trying its best to get past the white noise and get back to the facts. Not ‘alternative facts’, to borrow a Kellyanne Conway-ism, but the cold, hard, scientific ones.

“It’s extremely important to me that we’re honest about the claims that we make for dairy products,” says Angela Rowan, general manager of nutrition at Fonterra in a new series of clips online. “So when we use the science behind dairy for health and nutrition, we have to be honest, we have to be using facts and evidence to support the stories, the claims, the benefits that we promote.”

In another video, Rowan touts milk as the ‘original sports drink’, going on to say that “most sports drinks are carbohydrate and electrolytes, but what you’re using up when you exercise are your muscles. So if you don’t provide protein, then you’re not providing the building blocks that help to replenish the muscle that you’ve turned over.”

The rest of the series follows a similar path, using the age-old ‘figure of scientific authority’ technique to trumpet milk as the ultimate source of nutritional protein.

The protein theme also carries through to its other ‘talking head’ videos. This time, soliciting the help of a bit more star power with A-list spokesman/newlywed Richie McCaw and Olympian pole vaulter Eliza McCartney.

McCartney, who was one of the athletes featured in Anchor’s Olympics campaign, is also currently the subject of some social coercion from Fonterra as it attempts to solicit votes for the pole vaulter’s bronze medal win to take out sporting moment of the year.

Along with slogans like ‘Cool Again’ and ‘Butter is Back’ being used in its latest poster campaign, Fonterra’s strategy makes sense as an attempt to push back against creeping anti-dairy sentiments. Veganism, lactose-free, gluten-free, and paleo are all diet trends that haven’t exactly been the most friendly to dairy. And with increasing population numbers year-over-year, organisations like the UN have released reports urging people to move away from a meat and dairy diet in order to promote global sustainability. 

Conversely, the demand for natural foods is growing (butter sales have made a massive comeback globally after years of being deemed unhealthy) and provenance is increasingly important, something New Zealand has benefitted from because of our moderately mythical clean, green reputation. 

Fonterra chief operating officer in global consumer and foodservice Jacqueline Chow said earlier in the year that dairy was a part of the solution to malnutrition, but its image in New Zealand was being affected by “dietary fads and special interest groups”.

“Globally, six billion people rely on dairy products as one of their most important sources of protein and energy. Yet 800 million still do not get enough food to live a healthy active life.”

Touting the pure, unadulterated ‘goodness of dairy’, the campaign’s visually-striking images were plastered across city walls and national newspapers, drawing both praise and ire. Because while designers and creatives fawned over its sleek lines and muted palettes, environmentalists bemoaned what they saw as willful ignorance from a burgeoning dairy industry

One theory on the scathing anger around these nostalgic posters and romanticised TVCs (some of which feature a mumbling McCaw) is that exaggerated aestheticism and exaggerated emotionalism will often elicit an exaggerated response, particularly when you’re a company with a mountain of opinion accusing you of precisely the opposite thing. 

Nevertheless, nostalgia, emotionalism, and ‘natural goodness’ aren’t just a Fonterra-exclusive marketing ploy. Meadow Fresh, for example, insists its milk is now “less processed” with “more goodness” by no longer adding permeate, an ingredient milk suppliers once called “sludge” and dairy-makers defended as neccessary. 

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