Saturday, February 02, 2008

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I wandered through the milk aisle as I was shopping at Carrefour today, and stopped to browse for a bit. I'm not a big milk drinker myself; I've never liked the taste, except when masked by the sugary goodness of breakfast cereal. Judging by the variety of milks available at the store, however, milk seems to be doing very well in China, probably riding piggy-back on the win-at-the-starting-line ambitions of single-child parents. Mengniu (Mongolian Cow) Dairy was a sponsor of the Super Voice Girl phenomena when it hit its peak in popularity. At least in Shanghai, the milkman will still deliver milk to your home or apartment, albeit pasteurized not fresh. And the big dairies are learning to price-discriminate, targeting the new moneyed classes with premium milks that sell for twice the price of their cheaper ones.

Take Guangming, for example. 光明, or Bright Dairy, is a local Shanghai-based dairy that claims to have its origins with Jiang Zemin during his time as factory captain at the Shanghai Yimin №1 Foods Factory. For a over a decade they had been partially invested by Danone, which pulled out after a protectionist move by the Shanghai city government left them in a straight-jacket. But enough with the history, and onto the milk. Until a few years ago they pretty much stuck to marketing... milk. Regular ol' un-confusing milk in a light-blue box, like the one on the left. Actually, milk came in two methods of sterilization: pasteurized (better nutrition, 10 day shelf life) and UHT (ultra-high temperature; less nutritious, shelf life of several months). And that's it.

In early 2006, Mengniu developed a new milk based on "OMP research" that claimed to contain certain proteins that are helpful towards calcium retention and bone formation. This milk was sterilized through the UHT process and priced at about RMB 16 per liter. In response, in September of 2006 Guangming released a new product called Youbei, or Ubest, basing the product's claim to superiority on three factors: a slight price advantage over Mengniu, that the milk cows are high-quality imported Holsteins raised on special eco-ranches, and that the milk is sterilized through pasteurization, a process that preserves more of the milk's nutrients.

This was just the beginning. Guangming soon realized that demand for Youbei was strong even though it cost around twice as much as normal UHT milk, and also faced new pressure from Mengniu. When the Mongolian competitor developed a new, pasteurized version of its premium milk solely targeted at discriminating consumers in the Shanghai market, Guangming had to react. Quoting an article from the Shanghai Business Daily:

相比蒙牛对牧场的自信,光明似乎更愿意谈产品的新鲜与品质的关系。在现代牧场低温奶面世前,9月中旬,也仅在上海市场,光明推出了其最新、号称是目前中国最贵的一款低温奶——“致优”。光明乳业(11.02,-0.49,-4.26%)新闻发言人龚妍奇告诉记者,致优和光明的另一款低温奶“优倍”,奶源都来自光明目前最大的一个牧场——位于上海市郊的金山牧场。光明的奶源来自上海及其周边地区,以近距离保证消费者容易喝到尽可能新鲜的产品。而致优采用全新的低温陶瓷膜过滤工艺,是光明研发投入200多万元、花了三四年时间才研制成功的。这项工艺令产品能更大程度地保持新鲜。

Just as Mengniu was confident in its ranches, Guangming was even more willing to bank on the relation between a product's freshness and quality. Faced with competing pasteurized milk from Mengniu's Modern Ranch in nearby Anhui, Guangming gave the Shanghai market what is possibly China's most expensive low-temperature (non-UHT) milk -- "Zhiyou". Guangming Dairy spokesperson GONG Yanqi told reporters that both Zhiyou and Guangming's other low-temperature milk Youbei come from Guangming's largest ranch -- located in Shanghai's southern suburb of Jinshan. Because of the ranch's location relative to the city, Guangming is able to guarantee the milk's freshness and deliver high-quality milk to Shanghai's consumers. Guangming also invested over RMB 2 million and 3-4 years in developing all new ceramic membrane sterilization process which removes microorganisms from the milk at very low temperatures, further ensuring the freshness of Youzhi milk.

Which means that since September 2007 there are now a three grades of milk on the refrigerated shelves: regular pasteurized milk, premium eco-range pasteurized milk, and premium eco-range ceramic-membrane sterilized super-duper milk! And after the recent rash of inflation this stuff is even more expensive than in the past: regular milk goes for about RMB 8 per liter, Youbei is going for around RMB 13, and Zhiyou costs a hefty RMB 20 or more! It's all very confusing because there are no laws mandating what the dairy companies have to put on their labels, only "notices"; next time look and see if you can find any mentions of pasteurization on the cartons of milk: I couldn't find any! And that's why I'm writing this post. Oh, and don't forget:

Milk with 90% less fat, milk with 50% less fat, whole milk, high calcium milk, high calcium skim milk, active culture milk, diabetic milk...

Don't get me started on yogurts, either, which are mostly sugar anyways; Bebamamie is probably the best option there. And a good substitute for milk.

2 Comments:

At Feb 6, 2008, 8:00:00 PM, Blogger b said:

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At Sep 19, 2008, 1:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

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