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US: Core Power shakes up protein drink category

Mike McCloskey, a veterinarian-turned-farmer-turned-entrepreneur, is revolutionising the dairy industry. Using a patented membrane-filtration process, he is the brains behind Core Power, a silky-smooth high-protein milk – little fat, no lactose, cane sugar and natural honey – that has seen Coca-Cola buy an equity stake and designated as the official protein drink of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. His company, fairlife, has been named as one of the most innovative food companies by Fast Company.

STARTING a beverage business isn’t easy. With countless options on store shelves – a new product can be a small fish in a big pond. But Mike McCloskey and his wife, Sue, knew they had a powerful story to tell.

Mike is a veterinarian turned farmer, turned inventor, innovator and entrepreneur. After selling his vet practice and buying a dairy farm, he formed a progressive dairy co-op and came up with a high protein recovery shake called “Athletes Honey Milk” – now known as Core Power.

While other protein shake companies add protein and milk powders to water, Core Power begins with real milk, a powerful post-workout recovery substance. The brand uses a patented filtration process to gently separate the five components of milk to increase the level of protein and minerals to levels equal to three glasses of milk. The milk used in Core Power is lactose-free and low in fat.

“People are really watching their ingredient lists these days and are careful about what they’re putting into their bodies. With Core Power, people can feel good about what they’re drinking,” Mike says. “We’re not ‘junking up’ your drink with a bunch of powders and supplements – we’re essentially relying on the superfood milk is, to give people the nutrition they need for vitality and vigour so they can live life to the fullest. Core Power has a natural, simple ingredient list… and we’re extremely proud of that.”

Most importantly, Core Power tastes great. In every market test, to date, consumers overwhelmingly prefer the taste of Core Power to Muscle Milk. The brand has three regular calorie options (chocolate, vanilla and banana) and a pair of light options (chocolate and strawberry banana.)

“People have been drinking the other drinks after they work out because they haven’t had a choice,” Sue explains. “There hasn’t been anything out there that’s refreshing and tastes awesome – until now.”

She adds, “The days of plugging your nose to get you protein shake down are done.”

Not only is the product itself unprecedented, its supply chain story is equally impressive. Core Power’s parent health and wellness company, fairlife, was formed in 2012 by The Coca-Cola Company and Select Milk Producers (SMP), a group of 92 family-owned dairy farms throughout Texas, New Mexico and across the Midwest.

SMP farms are not your standard dairy operations. Mike, SMP co-founder and CEO, believes great milk starts with extraordinary animal care.

Cows live a pampered life on all SMP farms. At the flagship Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana, cows have their own sand beds, cleaned three times a day. They also have 24-hour access to food, water and fresh air, and milking carousels are designed with comfort in mind.

And that superior treatment pays off. SMP cows produce some of the highest-quality milk in the world on efficient and sustainably-minded farms.

“What you feed your cows and how you treat them has a great impact on the quality of the milk,” Mike insists. “We are committed to providing our cows with the highest-quality and most nutritious feed. We’ve developed our own nutrient-rich Total Mixed Ration, which is always available to the cows and gives them all the nutrients they need to produce great-tasting, high quality milk.”

And the good doesn’t stop there. SMP is committed to sustainability and renewable energy, as well. At the flagship farm, cow manure is converted into electricity for farm operations, and into compressed natural biogas to run its fleet of 42 milk trucks.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to take care of the land that is taking care of us,” Sue says, “and to leave it in a better place than it was when we found it.”

Doing so takes innovation and imagination. “And we’re trying to turn that imagination into reality and create an ecosystem we can all get excited about,” Sue adds.

Coca-Cola first began distributing Core Power in April 2012, starting small and honing in on marketing efforts in 13 key markets. In July, the brand officially became a nationally distributed product.

“We knew we had a great product and a great story… the key was to get to market,” said Steve Jones, CEO of fairlife. “Our direct-to-retail approach was not sustainable. Working with Coca-Cola allowed us access to more retailers, better customer management, better in-store placement, more strategic support, as well as support for all our other business models such as the innovative Ultimate Blend milk dispenser that will transform milk at food service and schools.”

Jones said fairlife hopes to take its health and wellness platform global, adding that “Only Coke could do that with us.”

While Core Power is the first product in the fairlife portfolio, it won’t be the last. Using its patented filtration system, the team is developing a line of smoothies, breakfast drinks, afternoon snacks, yogurts and everyday milk, enriched with protein and calcium but with less sugar than traditional milk.

“We’re excited about the future,” Sue concludes. “When I challenged Mike to create a great-tasting product that could give me all the protein, vitamins and minerals I need in one simple bottle, I had no idea it would lead to Core Power and all the other products we have in the pipeline. It’s exciting stuff, and we’re having a blast doing it!”

Source: Coca-Cola Company