Fairlife milk, a Coca-Cola product, rolls out nationwide this month. It’s proven buzz-worthy both for what it is and what it isn’t. Fairlife is “ultra-filtered” milk that is separated into its component parts—water, vitamins, lactose, protein, and fat. They remove the lactose, then recombine the remaining four components to create lactose-free milk with 50 percent more protein, 30 percent more calcium, and half the sugars and total carbs of conventional milk. The company stresses that it adds no protein powders or other supplements to the finished product. It’s available as whole, 2 percent, fat-free, and chocolate milk.
What Fairlife isn’t, among other things, is cheap. The 52-ounce plastic bottles sell for as much as $4.20. By contrast, the average price for conventional milk nationwide was $2.18 last week, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
“When this [product] was announced last November in Great Britain, The Guardian quoted a Coca-Cola executive as saying that Fairlife was expected to ‘rain money,’” nationally esteemed nutrition expert Marion Nestle, PhD, tells Cooking Light. “If Coca-Cola can’t sell soda (sales have been declining for years), maybe they can convince the public to buy ‘healthier’ milk—and get away with charging twice as much for it.”
The Fairlife website hits all the farm-to-table buzzwords: An “Our Farms” tab leads to a drop-down menu for further info on “sustainability,” “animal care,” and “traceability.” But critics argue that Fairlife is far from wholesome, actually more like a Frankenfood, cynically engineered and marketed to cash in on the country’s protein craze.
“Even skim milk naturally contains lactose sugar, and Fairlife will be treated to reduce the sugar and add protein,” says Nestle. “Americans already get plenty of protein, so why bother?” A Fairlife spokesperson was not available for comment at presstime.
Yet others in the nutrition field see potential benefits. “I’m interested in seeing how it might be used for diabetes patients. It would give you the option of getting more protein in the diet, but with a product with less sugar,” says Suzanne Henson, RD, a consulting dietician for Cooking Light. She says Fairlife might also help people 65 and older to maintain lean body mass as they age.
“The big issue is how this stuff tastes,” Nestle says. “The sugar is one of the reasons milk tastes good. If they can convince people that this is a high-end health drink, maybe taste isn’t an issue.”
We held an informal tasting at our editorial offices, and comments were mostly positive. Fairlife is creamier than conventional milk, with a luxurious mouthfeel that’s especially noticeable in the fat-free version. A few tasters missed the lack of natural sugars; most others either didn’t notice or preferred the slightly nuttier flavor.
The Cooking Light Verdict: If Fairlife proves helpful to people with diabetes, the elderly, and the lactose-intolerant, that’s obviously fantastic. But for the rest of us, we can’t recommend it. A balanced diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods gives you all the nutrients (and deliciousness) you need.