What's in your milk?

We look at what's in your milk and how the milk brands stack up.
 
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  • Updated:8 Apr 2013
 

01.Introduction

milk-taste-test

With questions raised around premium and supermarket branded milk, not to mention the addition of permeate to milk, CHOICE looks at how supermarket brand milk stacks up against the major brands.

The results of our nutritional analysis of premium vs homebrand milk found that regardless of price, all milks meet the Food Standards Code’s minimum requirements for fat and protein content (with a tendency to sit pretty close to the minimums). We also conducted a taste test and found that there was also little difference between the flavour of premium and homebrand milks.

Permeate paranoia

You may have noticed a "permeate free" claim showing up on your carton of milk. So what is permeate, and should you be avoiding it?

The composition of milk can vary throughout the year as a result of regional and seasonal factors and breed of cow. According to the industry, most dairy manufacturers standardise the fat and protein levels of the milk collected to meet consumers' expectations of a product with consistent composition and taste all year round. One way of doing this is to add or remove fat. Another is to add permeate, which also makes milk less costly to produce.

Permeate is derived through ultra-filtration, a process used by many manufacturers to separate various components of milk - protein, lactose, vitamins and minerals. Permeate is the technical term for the lactose, vitamin and mineral components, and is sometimes regarded as waste as it is discarded in the production of cheese. 

The Food Standards Code allows manufacturers to add or withdraw "milk components" to or from milk as long as the total fat level remains at least 3.2% (for full-cream milk) and the protein at least 3% (for any milk).

Manufacturers aren't required to list permeate on the ingredients list. Permeate-free labelling appears to be a marketing move in response to concerns from some consumers about its use in milk, but there's no evidence to suggest you should avoid it for nutritional or safety reasons.

Milk price wars

Coles slashed the price of its homebrand milk to $1 a litre in January 2011, which triggered a price war that prompted a government inquiry to find if lower prices will affect the farm gate and the quality of our milk. The inquiry ultimately cleared Coles of any wrongdoing and ruled that the dairy industry had not suffered unduly as a result, but the dairy industry disputes these findings. 

In the wake of these concerns, CHOICE conducted a taste test to see if participants could taste the difference between premium brand milk and the cheaper supermarket brands.

The user trial 

We had 30 CHOICE staffers to do a blind taste test of 12 milks:

  • 6 reduced fat milks - 3 premium and 3 supermarket brand
  • 6 full cream milks - 3 premium and 3 supermarket brand.

Testers didn’t know which one they were tasting beyond whether it was full cream or reduced fat – and the results are surprising.

They found a greater taste difference between different brands of reduced fat milks than between brands of full cream milk. This may be because the reduced fat milks we tested had more differences in sugar and fat levels than the full cream ones (see the table below).

For both the full cream and reduced fat categories, in terms of those who liked the taste, supermarket brand milks scored at least as well as branded products in every case. For drinking taste their quality does not appear to have been compromised.

How the milks compare

Our 2009 milk investigation featured a nutritional analysis of nearly 40 milk products. What we found is that for all types of milk, the generic brands are the cheapest, and on average contain much the same levels of protein, fat and calcium as the big brands.

Comparing milk now with those we analysed in 2009, little has changed. All the milks meet the Food Standards Code’s minimum requirements for fat and protein content, sitting pretty close to the minimums.

Key

Total Fat: <3g = Green light; 3.1g – 19.9g = Orange light; <20g = Red light
Saturated Fat: <1.5g = Green light; 1.6g – 4.9g = Orange light; <5g = Red light
Sugars: <5g = Green light; 5.1g – 14.9g = Orange light; <15g = Red light
Sodium: <120mg = Green light; 121mg – 599mg = Orange light; <600mg = Red light


Full Cream

Product
Energy (Kj/100mL)
Protein (g/100mL)
Total fat (g/100mL)
Saturated fat. (g/100mL)
Sugar (g/100mL)
Sodium (mg/100mL)
Calcium (mg/100mL)
Volume (L) per unit
Farmdale Full Cream (Aldi)
271
3.3
3.6
2.4
4.8
58
123
3
Dairy Farmers Original Milk
272
3.2
3.6
2.4
4.9
44
114
3
Coles Full Cream Milk
272
3.2
3.6
2.4
4.9
44
114
3
Woolworths Homebrand Milk
265
3.2
3.4
2.2
4.9
44
114
3
Pura Milk
273
3.3
3.6
2.3
5
30
113
3
Pure Organic Full Cream Milk
288
3.2
4.1
2.7
4.8
58
123
2

Reduced fat

Product
Energy (Kj/100mL)
Protein (g/100mL)
Total fat (g/100mL)
Saturated fat (g/100mL)
Sugar (g/100mL)
Sodium (mg/100mL)
Calcium (mg/100mL)
Volume (L) per unit
Woolworths Lite
193
3.3
1.4
0.9
5
43
124
3
Coles Lite Milk
193
3.3
1.4
0.9
5
43
114
3
Farmdale Light
221
4.2
1.3
0.9
6.1
43
141
3
Dairy Farmers Lite White
198
3.6
1.4
0.9
5.2
48
126
2
Dairy Farmers New
214
3.4
2
1.3
4.9
43
122
2
Pauls Smarter White Milk
237
4
2
1.3
5.6
67
145
2

The coffee myth

Some baristas would have you believe that cheaper milks – like the supermarket brand products – will give you a poorer quality coffee as the milk doesn’t froth as well. They say the lower fat content of supermarket brand milks is responsible. But our analysis says otherwise.

To confirm our findings, we asked our resident coffee expert and coffee machine tester for his opinion. He said there is some variability in milk according to season, but regardless of whether it’s homebrand or premium you should be able to get a good foam – so rest assured, your morning cappuccino is safe. He steamed the supermarket brand variety for us and we couldn’t tell the difference.

CHOICE verdict

While there is concern around the quality of our milk and the impact of the milk war, our taste test shows that supermarket brand products can taste as good to drink as their more expensive counterparts. It seems that consumers are not sacrificing drinking taste when choosing supermarket brand milk. And there's no evidence to suggest you should avoid permeate for nutritional or safety reasons.

We believe the backlash around the milk war relates to broader issues around competition in Australia’s grocery sector. Read CHOICE Head of Campaigns Matt Levey's blog on this issue. We made a submission to the Senate Economics Committee Inquiry on the impacts of supermarket price decisions on the dairy industry, questioning whether the $1-a-litre discounts are a sign of genuine and healthy competition.

In our view consumers do not win if short-term discounting reduces product choice or undermines milk quality in the medium or long term. But for now, you can be confident that regardless of your purchasing choice, you are getting a good milk product.

 
 

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