Survival of the Fittest

Courtesy of Darigold
Darigold's new FIT milk processing machine in Boise, Idaho

Darigold’s investment in a novel dairy product is designed to offset continued declining sales of milk.

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For 101 years, Northwest dairy farmers have been members of a cooperative — the Northwest Dairy Association — whose marketing and processing arm, Seattle-based Darigold, is a well-known brand across the U.S.

The century-old enterprise is under pressure from declining consumption of milk, which has fallen more than 40% on a per capita basis in the U.S. since 1975, according to USDA data.

To ensure its long-term survival, the cooperative is putting all its efforts into promoting a new lactose-free dairy beverage, known as FIT milk, which has 75% more protein and 40% less sugar than regular milk.

Darigold, which has 70 dairy farmer members in Oregon, has invested $67 million into the expansion of a factory in Boise, Idaho, where the FIT milk and its packaging will be made.

Darigold Boise plantDarigold’s milk processing facility in Boise, Idaho.  Photo: Courtesy of Darigold

The new milk product is designed to address two of the most cited concerns consumers have with milk: that it is bad for health and the environment.

Darigold claims FIT milk addresses these concerns because the ultrafiltration the milk goes through to reduce sugar and boost protein makes it healthier.

Additionally, the Boise factory will have a new packaging machine, which the company says cuts down on water use, plastic and corrugated material. The milk also doesn’t have to be refrigerated, which decreases energy use further.

Duane Naluai, Darigold’s senior vice president, says FIT milk is the “future of fluid milk.” Sales of the product are up more than 50% year over year — faster than plant-based “dairy” beverages, which provide stiff competition to the dairy industry.

FIT milk has a strong connection to Portland. Darigold launched production of the ultra-filtered milk product at a factory in the city. That facility will continue to produce the product in tandem with the Boise expansion.

Will FIT milk be enough to stave off the overall decline in milk consumption? Only time will tell if it will, as Naluai says, “future-proof” the century-old company.

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