Lewis Road Creamery's Fresh Chocolate Milk tastes simple and sweet at the first sip. There’s a creamy texture and a molten Whittaker’s chocolate edge to it. It might even develop a bouquet if you let it reach room temperature, but does it offer anything you can't get from other flavoured milk? Yes. No. Maybe. A lot of people seem to think so.
Lewis Road’s chocolate milk poured onto the market with the force of a sweet tsunami late last year. Within eight weeks of its launch on October 1, sales had ramped up from an initial 1000 litres per week to 31,000 litres.
Demand proved so strong that a black (or brown, rather) market developed.
Bottles of the “crack milk” appeared for sale on Trade Me. Cafes, cooks and national television stations scrambled to make substitute milks for those who missed out on the real deal. Security guards were hired to make sure shoppers didn’t lap up more than their fair share.
Lewis Road boss Peter Cullinane has held off from claiming responsibility for his product’s enormous success. He told Idealog in November that he had no idea New Zealanders were about to go collectively crazy for chocolate milk before the mania hit.
Lewis Road’s product now has 31.8 per cent of the fresh flavoured milk market in New Zealand. The market is worth $27.4m for the latest moving annual total, and grew by ll.9 percent compared to the previous year.
Social media contributed heavily to Lewis Road chocolate milk’s cult status, but the company spent very little on traditional advertising. It burned through around $20,000 of a shoestring marketing budget before it became clear that fanning the flames was unnecessary.
“We had to stop any marketing almost as soon as it started,” Cullinane said.
He thought the product’s success on social media had a lot to do with its underlying quality, saying consumers no longer overlooked companies’ poor performance out of affection for their marketing campaigns. Lewis Road is conscientious about rewarding people who reach out on social media by responding to each and every post, and established brand Whittakers promoted the collaboration through its own channels.
The carefully-designed packaging gained further brownie points from social media users, as did “honesty”. In response to a Consumer report which underlined Lewis Road chocolate milk’s high sugar and fat content, Cullinane said there was “no point” trying to obscure the facts about it.
“We just said ‘Yes, and drink accordingly’ and we put on the label that it’s an indulgent treat.”
Consumer strategist from The Research Agency Colleen Ryan says Lewis Road is tapping into an emerging trend for indulgence. Following the global financial crisis, consumers are ready to ease back on austerity and allow premium products back into their lives – especially if they are locally made.
As this issue went to print, Lewis Road was producing 35,000 litres of the coveted milk each week and stocking at 281 outlets. This represents more than double the 130 reported in late November. Cullinane thinks production could go up to 100,000 litres if the market settled at that level.
[Source of fresh flavoured milk market data about Lewis Road: IRI-Aztec MarketEdge Scan Data, NZ Grocery (value), QTR data to 04/01/15.]
[Source of overall fresh flavoured milk data: Nielsen Scantrack, MAT to w/e 28/12]
This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 736, March 2015.