Volume 6 | Issue 3 | Year 2010

Headquartered in Quebec, Agropur Division Natrel is Canada’s leading producer and supplier of milk, cream, butter, cottage cheese, sour cream and other dairy products.
During its 20-year history, the Natrel brand has become synonymous with innovation and excellent quality, as Natrel has kept up with constantly changing consumer needs and demands, especially as these relate to milk consumption. “We’re a strong and growing second player in Quebec when it comes to value-added milks, whether filtered or fortified,” says Caroline Losson, Division Natrel’s vice president of marketing. “Growth has been challenging over the past few years, primarily due to price war and recession, but things are now looking very positive.”

Established in 1990, the renowned dairy producer is a division of Agropur, a 100-percent Canadian-owned dairy cooperative whose membership includes about 3,553 dairy farmers who jointly own the organization. One of its nation’s leading dairy organizations, Agropur generates annual sales close to $3.1 billion. Agropur itself was founded in 1938. Today, it has about 5,225 employees and produces 2.7 billion liters of milk each year at its 27 plants spread throughout Canada, the United States and Argentina. Its head office is located in Longueuil, Quebec.

Along with Natrel, the organization has two other divisions: Fine Cheese and Cheese and Functional Products. Agropur also has established joint ventures with Ultima Foods Inc. and La Lacteo.

MILK AND MORE

Division Natrel’s self-defined mission is to provide basic dairy products while also focusing on product innovation and added value. The division was formed in 1990 as Agropur’s subsidiary for the sales and marketing of fluid market products. However, today it offers much more. “The main activity remains managing milk, but we also offer a range of other products under other brand names,” says Losson.

However, milk remains the claim to fame, and for good reason: The division offers a premium line of better tasting and more wholesome milk marketed under the Natrel brand, and it has good reason to be diligent about quality. “One of the biggest concerns for us is that, in the past decade in Canada, milk consumption has been declining, so we’ve been finding ways to at least maintain per capita consumption, if not increase it,” says Losson.

She points to several reasons for the decline in consumption. One involves changing population demographics. “There is the aging population. We know that per capita consumption decreases with age,” she says. “Also, a growing number of immigrants have different milk consumption habits.”

Another factor is the increasing popularity of fruit juices. “It is actually easier for moms to put juices in their kids’ lunch box versus a milk carton,” Losson indicates.

Also, milk nutrients are increasingly available in other liquids (calcium-rich fruit juices, for instance). “All of this has compelled us to bring value-added products to the market, so that people will either get back into the category or stay within the category.”

Such products include Natrel Fine-filtered Milk, produced with a remarkably fine filter that removes virtually all bacteria (a process that results in longer freshness and a purer, creamier taste); Natrel Calcium, which is fortified with 35 percent more calcium than regular milk and provides each glassful with 40 percent of the recommended daily requirements for calcium; and Natrel Pro, which contains pro-biotic cultures that help boost the immune system.

OTHER MILK CONSUMPTION TRENDS

“Another significant trend in the milk market is the rising number of lactose intolerant people,” says Losson. “So, we produce a lactose-free milk product made according to our proprietary production method. We’re also working toward creating more lactose-free products.”

In the meantime, the Natrel Lactose Free Milk is produced by using a unique filtration process that removes nearly all of the lactose that causes the discomfort in the intolerant consumer. In addition, Natrel’s dairy experts ensure that the lactose-free milk still retains a pure, fresh taste as well as the necessary nutrients that go into a well-balanced diet. The milk is available in skim, 1-percent, and 2-percent varieties.

The 1-percent version has an extremely attractive nutritional profile for today’s health-conscious consumers. One cup contains only 90 calories, eight carbohydrate grams, and 2.5 grams of fat. Also, a cupful boasts 11 grams of protein and provides significant daily requirement percentages for numerous vitamins and minerals: vitamin A (15), calcium (30), vitamin D (45), thiamine (10), riboflavine (20), niacin (10), vitamin B12 (45), and magnesium and zinc (10 percent each). All is the same for the 2-percent version, except for calories (120) and fat (five grams). Natrel also offers a lactose-free chocolate milk product that includes all of the benefits of the regular version.

Natrel is also meeting the organic trend head on. “Today, more people are looking for a natural milk product that is simple and organic,” says Losson.

Division Natrel is helping to supply that demand with the introduction of its Natrel Omega-3, which provides a potent source of Omega-3 polyunsaturates. Natrel only uses pure, coldpressed, unrefined virgin flax seed oil as the sole source of these polyunsaturates.

Subsequently, Natrel enhanced the concept with its Natrel Omega-3 DHA product, which is fortified with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid derived from a natural plant source. DHA provides significant health benefits, especially for children, as it supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves, among other organs and systems. The Omega-3 DHA milk beverage offers all the same benefits as regular Natrel milk but with the added essential nutrient. Further, only Natrel offers an omega-3 milk containing 35 milligrams of DHA per serving (three times more than similar products).

YET MORE

The Natrel brand also includes Natrel Nutrition 24, a dietary supplement comprised of fresh milk, 24 essential vitamins and minerals, and a healthy balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. As Natrel reports, vitamin and mineral levels of nutritional supplements are strictly regulated by Health Canada and are designed to provide essential nutrients that may be lacking in some Canadian diets.

Rounding out the Natrel brand line are Natrel Natural~Pure (filtered milk), Natrel Nature~Pure Organic (milk made without preservatives), Natrel Café (a line of flavored coffee creamers made with real cream), and Natrel single-serve products.

EXPANDING ORGANIZATION

Natrel became one of Canada’s leading dairy producers, and Agropur’s largest division, following a series of acquisitions. To expand the national presence of Division Natrel, Agropur purchased Brant Dairy (1995), the Ontario-based fluid milk division of Ault Foods (1997) and Grace-Mar Dairy in British Columbia (1998).

Natrel’s other brands include Sealtest, a brand name acquired by Ault Foods of Toronto, Canada and now licensed by Natrel. The Sealtest brand includes a comprehensive line-up of dairy products including milk, cream, butter, chocolate dairy beverages, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dips and juices. (Natrel also has the license for the Hershey and Oh Henry milkshakes, both of which blend a chocolate bar taste into a creamy, healthy beverage.)

In January 2005, Agropur acquired the assets of Island Farms of Victoria, British Columbia, which bolstered Natrel’s line-up with products such as ice cream, yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese.

Natrel’s other brands include the Québon line, which includes milk (Quebec’s most popular and trusted brand), buttermilk, and Ultra’cream, a recipe addition that can serve as a topping or an ingredient for cooking and baking. Division Natrel is also a distributor of the popular Silk soy beverages. (Silk, which was launched in 1996, has become North America’s best-selling soy milk brand.)

TODAY AND TOMORROW: MILK

Currently, Agropur Division Natrel, which is headquartered in Longueuil, Quebec has 10 manufacturing plants in Canada: two in Ontario, five in Quebec and two in British Columbia. The Ontario plants are located in Toronto and Ottawa. The five Quebec plants reside in Montreal, Quebec City, Amqui, Drummondville and Saint-Bruno. The British Columbia plants are situated in Victoria and Chilliwack. In all, the division has more than 2,000 employees, reports Losson.

As Natrel grows, and its product line increases, milk remains its primary focus. “The milk market divides itself in two,” Losson observes. “On one side you have the mainstream milk, which is very much price driven and comprises the bulk of the market. Then you have the value-added products, which are driving much of the profitability.”

Such products are either fortified with additional nutritional value or have some other point of difference. “These are the products that we look toward to generate our future growth,” she says. “We are truly proud of our ‘milk’ expertise. We have a world-class R&D department that has enabled us to have some truly wonderful innovations and to be first to market.”