Malcom headshot
While there has been talk about the steady decline in milk consumption lately, there is a rising star that has also been getting quite a bit of attention. Thanks to the growing category of exercise recovery beverages, chocolate milk is making an impressive comeback because of its scientifically proven ability to help athletes recover after strenuous exercise.

The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) recognized this as an opportunity to reposition what has traditionally been known as a “kids’ drink” into a serious recovery beverage to bring lapsed milk drinkers back into the fold and successfully drive incremental sales growth for chocolate milk.

Leveraging credible science, the equity of the iconic “got milk?” campaign, the endorsement of highly influential elite athletes and credible partners, MilkPEP is going head-to-head with established sports beverage brands to tout the benefits of drinking chocolate milk after strenuous exercise.

In March 2012, MilkPEP launched the “Refuel| got chocolate milk?” campaign as part of its occasion-based marketing strategy. The campaign integrates print, television and digital advertising; social media; grassroots events; and retail activation, and it has already generated 1 billion consumer media impressions. Since the campaign’s launch, flavored milk sales data from IRI and the U.S. Department of Agriculture show a consistent year-on-year increase each month helping to push flavored milk sales into the black for the first time in years.


Taking the program for a spin

Processors are effectively building on the campaign’s momentum by participating in MilkPEP’s 2013 National Refuel Tour, which is tied to Rock ΄n΄ Roll Marathons and Ironman events across the country. They are also taking advantage of MilkPEP’s Team Refuel, a group of “believers” who serve as ambassadors of the Refuel message in their local markets and are willing to promote local dairy brands authentically through blog posts, social media and word of mouth. The positive results from these grassroots activations speak volumes about the Refuel message’s impact on chocolate milk sales.

In February, the Borden Co. of Florida joined forces with MilkPEP at the Rock ΄n΄ Roll Marathon in St. Petersburg to promote the Refuel message and its branded low-fat chocolate milk. Borden collaborated with one of its local retailers, Hess stores, to add a retail activation component to the two-day promotion. The Borden team was onsite throughout the race weekend to maximize its participation as the “Official Refuel Beverage” of the marathon.

On Expo Day, Borden and MilkPEP distributed more than 1,000 coupons and flyers to encourage athletes to head to their local Hess store to receive a discount off Borden chocolate milk. On Race Day, 4,000 athletes sampled Borden’s chocolate milk at the official Refuel tent as they crossed the finish line.

Borden also attracted attention by providing athletes with its own T-shirts branded with the Borden logo, engaging them in discussions about the recovery benefits of low-fat chocolate milk and encouraging them to join Team Refuel. More than 100 athletes submitted videos to become a part of the Team Refuel movement.

On the retail level, in addition to the coupons, shoppers who purchased Borden chocolate milk at a local Hess store were offered a free Refuel lanyard.

“This partnership with MilkPEP surpassed our expectations of how much success we could have in getting the Refuel message out there just by participating in a grassroots event,” said Al Menendez, Borden’s Southeast field marketing manager. Borden saw an immediate increase in chocolate milk sales following the event. According to Menendez, sales at participating stores were 17% higher than at nonparticipating stores for the same time period.

In 2013, many other processors have been successful in taking advantage of MilkPEP’s Refuel Tour, including Shamrock Foods, Alta Dena, Borden Co. of Texas, Berkeley Farms, Meadow Gold Dairies, Producers Dairy and Shenandoah’s Pride Dairy. In addition to the Refuel Tour, processors can increase brand awareness by hosting events of their choosing, including Ironman, Ironman 70.3 and Iron Girl triathlons; Life Time Fitness “Esprit de She” races; and USA Swimming events.


Chocolate milk powers athletes

Besides the Rock ΄n΄ Roll Marathon series, chocolate milk continues to be the official Refuel beverage of a powerhouse of partners, including Ironman, USA Swimming, Life Time Cycle Club and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, to elevate credibility and drive consumer demand.

Processors are leveraging these partnerships by using the “Official Refuel Beverage” designation as well as the partner logos on label/on pack, online and on promotional materials. These are great ways to tap into the excitement around Rock ΄n΄ Roll and Ironman races and the credibility and endorsements of these respected partners.

Borden recently developed new labels featuring the Ironman logo for its gallon low-fat chocolate milk. It also offered discount coupons for 50 cents off its low-fat Dutch chocolate pint highlighting the Ironman, Rock ΄n΄ Roll Marathon Series and the Refuel | got chocolate milk? logos.

Processors who have participated in MilkPEP’s Refuel with Chocolate Milk Feature Incentive program have reported immediate incremental sales increases of chocolate milk. Last year, more than 20,000 stores signed up for the 7-week program which runs from mid-May through June. Participating stores registered a 16.3% lift in chocolate milk sales during the promotional period. Overall, the program resulted in a 3.1% year over year lift and 973,000 gallons of incremental chocolate milk sales across the country. In addition to higher sales, retailers who participate in these programs receive incentives as an added bonus.

These are just a few examples of how processors are riding the momentum of MilkPEP’s Refuel consumer campaign. With the needle clearly moving in the right direction and new insights gained from MilkPEP’s recent proprietary research, we are beginning to extend our Refuel campaign to a broader audience of athletes as well as active adults who engage in strenuous exercise.

Within the next few months, we will be sharing the key insights and data from our proprietary ExactCast research to help processors refine their Refuel marketing activities.