High-melatonin milk is an emerging wellness market that could be worth US$400m. It’s a market that is being developed by small dairy companies, one of them an organic dairy, who are enjoying healthy sales growth and high price premiums to regular milk. Julian Mellentin reports.

The recent launch of the UK’s second “night time milk” brand – selling at a 150% price premium to regular milk – shows the potential for this new niche that makes the most of one of milk’s intrinsic health benefits.

The product joins a growing international line-up of high melatonin milks, headed by market pioneer Finland’s Ingman Dairy, that are creating a profitable new segment of the dairy market that could grow to be worth US$400m in annual sales. It’s a market that is being developed by small dairy companies, one of them organic, who are enjoying healthy sales growth and some of the highest price premiums in the milk business.

Combating lifestyle issues

With so much attention directed at foods that can combat cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases, it is often overlooked that the most successful nutritional products are not the ones that fight disease but those that address lifestyle issues – health problems that reduce people’s quality of life but aren’t life-threatening diseases.

Sleeplessness is one such lifestyle issue and it’s an important one for a significant percentage of consumers over the age 45. Almost a quarter of women aged over 45 regularly have difficulty getting to sleep at night. The problem affects a further 50% to a lesser degree. The clutch of high-melatonin milk brands that have surfaced in recent years are an excellent example of how consumers are willing to pay premium prices for products that will improve their lifestyle.

Melatonin is a hormone produced within the brain – and which occurs naturally in milk – which helps to regulate our body clock (the circadian rhythm). The levels in our bodies vary over the course of a 24-hour cycle and over the course of our lives. It’s when your body can’t produce enough melatonin that you can’t get off to sleep at night.

Sleepless Americans can take melatonin in dietary supplements, but in the EU, Australia and elsewhere synthetic melatonin – which is the basis for almost all dietary supplements – is classified as a drug and it cannot be added to any foodstuff.

Natural provider of melatonin

Milk naturally contains some melatonin and many companies have looked at the possibility of marketing this intrinsic health benefit, but as so often in the business of food and health, it was the Finns who were first with an innovative dairy product to address the sleep issue.

Ingman Dairy’s Night Time milk is the result of a cooperation between Ingman and the University of Kuopio, where Professor Maija Valtonen, of the University’s Institute of Applied Biotechnology, is an acknowledged world expert on melatonin. With her colleagues she developed a unique test method that made it easier to accurately monitor the level of melatonin in cows’ milk and worked out how to control melatonin secretion in cows to achieve the optimal concentration of melatonin. It’s an innovation that the university has patent-protected.

Launched in 1999, Ingman Dairy’s Night Time milk – the world’s first-ever high melatonin milk – makes the most of milk’s natural melatonin content and although still a niche product, sales are healthy and demand has been growing steadily since launch, despite a high price premium. A similar product has been launched in Japan and the UK has two milk brands inspired by the Finnish example.

High-melatonin milk is a great example of one of those thus far overlooked niches which – time and again – show how wellness is a more compelling message to consumers than “reduced risk of disease” and how simple wellness messages can often command healthy profits.

Expert Analysis

All-natural high-melatonin milk: a profitable opportunity for milk’s intrinsic health benefit?

High-melatonin milk is an emerging wellness opportunity that could be worth $400 million in sales in Europe and North America. It’s a market that is being developed by small dairy companies, one of them an organic dairy, who are enjoying healthy sales growth and high price premiums to regular milk – in some cases of hundreds of per cent.

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