Beatrice fights Ault claim

The Ontario launch of Ault Foods' new premium milk product has sent competitor Beatrice Foods to the courts for an injunction to stop advertising that it claims may prove harmful to the image of regular milk.Beatrice wants to stop advertising in...

The Ontario launch of Ault Foods’ new premium milk product has sent competitor Beatrice Foods to the courts for an injunction to stop advertising that it claims may prove harmful to the image of regular milk.

Beatrice wants to stop advertising in which Ault claims its Lactantia PurFiltre milk has a superior purity because of a new filtering process.

A hearing was scheduled for Jan. 6, while Ault’s $7-million ‘Taste of Purity’ print and television advertising is due to begin Jan. 13.

At press-time, Ault did not have plans to change the advertising.

‘Given the potential of this technology, we are not surprised that our competition is now reacting, and attempting to impede an effective launch,’ said Graham Freeman, president and chief executive officer of Ault.

The PurFiltre process passes very cold milk through a microfilter that removes impurities, but not nutrients.

This allows the subsequent pasteurization to be done at a lower temperature, helping to maintain a fresh taste, according to Ault.

But, Ault’s advertising, created by Lowe SMS, also alludes to the purity issue: Ault claims the process leaves 92 times less bacteria than regular pasteurization, which is a tactic Beatrice feels denigrates regular milk without reason.

Ault’s math is performed after pasteurization when even the standard process destroys about 99.7% of bacteria.

Small amount left

Ault’s claim to 92 times less bacteria refers to the small amount of bacteria left after pasteurization has rendered the milk perfectly safe.

For example, if in a given sample of milk the Ault process leaves two bacteria, and the regular process leaves 184, the Ault process has indeed destroyed 92 times more.

But, according to Beatrice, this result is to no particular purpose, considering the difference becomes negligible as soon as the milk has been poured into a glass, which inevitably contains bacteria of its own.

‘You cannot drink milk that has 92 times less bacteria… you’d have to put yourself in some sort of hermetically sealed room, put your mouth over the bag, bite it off, and drink it all in three seconds,’ says Wayne Newson, president of the Dairy division of Beatrice Foods.

‘It’s an irrelevant claim to the consumer,’ Newson says.

He says he is concerned that the advertising calls into question the purity of regular milk, destroying the consumer confidence in dairies that an Angus Reid Group survey of 1992 measured as one of the highest in industry.

According to Newson, the milk industry would have no problem accepting advertising that concentrated on the taste issue alone.

‘If [Ault's] research is correct that the consumer is willing to pay more money for it, none of us has a problem,’ he says.

‘We’re not dinosaurs trying to stop innovation or progress… However they are making a claim most of us feel is damaging to the industry. `Bacteria’ has a very negative connotation.’

Ault’s claim that the PurFiltre product has a longer shelf life also peeved Beatrice.

Early promotional material suggests that regular milk ‘spoils after a few days’, and claims PurFiltre stays fresh almost twice as long.

‘It’s the same after it’s been open,’ Newson says.

Beatrice took its complaints to the Canadian Advertising Foundation before it went to the courts, but was told the foundation could do nothing until the advertising began.

‘That’s like taking the gun away after somebody has been shot,’ Newson says.

The foundation would not comment on the case.

Misleading

The Canadian Competition Act forbids claims that are false or misleading. Something can be literally true but if people are misled by the implication or general impression of the claim, the company can be prosecuted.

Harry O’Grady, vice-president marketing at Becker Milk, says there is concern there as well, that the Ault advertising will harm the image of regular milk.

‘The question is not their right to try premium milk or anything else,’ O’Grady says.

‘We are concerned that the advertising is a little misleading in that it is inferring that other milk is bad,’ he says.

Other dairies are said to be equally concerned but were not available for comment.

The Ontario Milk Marketing Board, which represents Ontario’s 9,000 dairy farms, says it welcomes innovation in the industry, but not at the expense of reducing the total consumption of milk.

‘We’re very positive about somebody introducing new products, new technology and new packaging and promotion – that’s very good for the category,’ says Robert Bishop, general manager of the ommb

‘Our one reservation that we expressed to Ault, and still have, is raising the bacteria point quite so strongly as they do,’ Bishop says.

The ommb’s concern is that the bacteria issue will get overplayed in the press, and consumers will get the impression that regular milk is somehow unsafe.

$7 million on promotion

Outside of the bacteria issue however, Bishop is pleased to see Ault planning on spending $7 million dollars on its promotional campaign, and he figures it is not unlikely other producers will create premium brands of their own if the PurFiltre product succeeds.

According to Nielson Marketing Research, supermarket sales of milk were about $1.15 billion in the 52 weeks ending in September, up 5% from the same period in 1993.

This is not the first time controversy has surrounded the use of a cold filtering process: in February of last year, the Federal Court stopped Labatt Breweries of Canada from using the advertising slogan, also created by Lowe SMS, ‘only Labatt brews real ice beer,’ after Molson applied for an injunction.

Ault, founded in 1891, was owned by John Labatt from 1968 to 1993, when it became a freestanding public company.

It markets products under the Lactantia, Sealtest, Light ‘n Lively, Black Diamond, Haagen-Dazs and Parlour Brand names.

Ault plans to launch the PurFiltre product in Quebec in the next few months, and across the country within the next six months.