- Almost all milk is highly processed.
- Generic brands are much the same quality as the major branded versions – and a lot cheaper.
- Most people will get no real benefit from the more expensive “milk” products with added extras.
- All milk qualifies for the description “good source of calcium”. There’s between 115mg and 120mg of calcium per 100mL, regardless of brand.
Confused by all the different types of milk at the supermarket? It’s no longer simply a matter of reaching for full-cream, light or skim milk; nowadays you have to navigate labels claiming everything from high calcium to low saturated fat and from added omega-3 to A2 proteins – not to mention the growing organic milk market. They all cost more than the generic brands of regular or low-fat milk, but are they worth the extra money?
CHOICE has skimmed off the marketing hype and found that generic brands of milk are much the same as the equivalent big national brands. What’s more, the generic brands can be half the price of branded milk.
Trawling the major supermarkets in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, we found more than 80 different brands and types of milk – an amazing number considering that milk production is dominated by just two big multinationals, Parmalat (based in Italy) and National Foods/Dairy Farmers (owned by Japanese brewing giant Kirin) – and that doesn’t include products such as flavoured milk, goat’s milk or soy milk.
CHOICE Radio: Milk whitewash
Please note: this information was current as of September 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Full cream makes up nearly half of all fresh milk sales. To qualify it needs to contain at least 3.2% fat, as specified by the Food Standards Code. Most brands contain about 3.4% fat and 3.3% protein.
Light/low-fat is the second-biggest category (30% of fresh milk sales). To qualify for the description, milk should contain no more than 1.5% fat, with most brands containing 1.3% to 1.4%. Often this milk has skim milk powder added to it, which makes it taste creamier and also boosts the calcium content.
Skim Food can be labelled “fat-free” if it contains less than 0.15% fat, and most brands of skim contain about 0.1%. Again, most brands contain extra skim milk powder which makes the milk taste creamier and gives it extra protein and calcium.
Pasteurisation destroys harmful bacteria by heating to a high temperature for a short period of time (the Food Standards Code requires all milk and dairy products sold in Australia be pasteurised).
Homogenisation is a process that makes the milk fat globules much smaller than in raw milk and prevents cream from separating and floating to the top of the bottle or carton. Homogenised milk looks whiter and doesn’t taste as creamy as non-homogenised milk. Contrary to some claims, there’s no evidence that homogenisation increases the risk of children developing an allergy to milk.
Despite the profusion of brands and the plethora of claims, the only really meaningful choice when buying milk is between full-cream, low-fat and skim, as the generic brands are little different from the more expensive national brands.
If you like the taste of old-fashioned, full-cream milk that hasn’t been homogenised, or you’d prefer milk from cows that have been treated more kindly than usual, you’re more likely to find it as organic milk that has been produced by a small local dairy.