A2 Milk from Fresha Valley

July 2010

An independent dairy company is processing A2 milk

A small northland dairy company that challenged the Dairy Co-op monopolies in the 90s, supplying cut price milk to supermarkets, is now one of two private dairy companies in the country supplying A2 milk.

In 2008 the business papers carried a story about a small Northland processor riding the A2 milk wave, nabbing a major supermarket contract and thumbing its nose at the big boys who once tried to shut it down.

In January 2008, A2 Corporation announced Fresha Valley in Waipu and another small company in Hamilton would start processing milk for 150 supermarkets throughout the country.

Fresha Valley first began as a goat's milk processor in 1988, distributing to a limited number of supermarkets. The milk, which was A2 in composition, was particularly sought-after by consumers with allergies and type 1 diabetes - the same sector now clamouring for A2 cow's milk.

Paul Jensen, along with George Stoddart started the business. Both of them have been in the industry for ages. Paul was running the Whangarei Town milk supply and George started sweeping the floor at Ruawai. They now have six suppliers and around 27 staff.

The company started processing cow's milk in 1991, two years before the industry was deregulated. They were selling it at a cut price to Woolworths. The move attracted the attention of the large dairy firms and Fresha Valley was taken to court by the Northland Cooperative Dairy Company in a bid to shut it down.

To get around the legalities of the time, the company produced flavoured milk, which was sold under supermarket house-brand labels. The milk was called milk flavoured - effectively a loop hole in the Milk Act. They were tough times with Fresha Valley having to employee security guards to protect its two farm suppliers and its processing plant.

Following deregulation in 1993, Fresha Valley moved to processing standard A1 cow's milk and had steadily increased its supply capacity.

In 2002 the company was approached by A2 Corporation and offered an A2 milk-processing licence.

A2 milk does not contain the protein in standard A1 milk, which has been linked with illnesses such as type-1 diabetes, autism, heart disease and Crohn's disease.

Demand for previously scarce A2 milk has rocketed since the September 2007 release of a book on the issue (The Devil in the Milk) by Lincoln University academic, Professor Keith Woodford.

Woodford is a professor of farm management and agribusiness. His book knits together the findings of 100 scientific papers, anecdotes and tales of scientific and corporate intrigue into a controversial indictment of A1 milk, and a rousing endorsement of A2.

Well before Woodford took up the story, a bitter David-and-Goliath

battle had been waged through the courts and in the media over health claims surrounding A1 and A2 milk.

A2 Corporation had threatened to sue Fonterra for allegedly covering up the harmful effects of standard A1 milk, and argued that it ought to carry a health warning. Fonterra, in turn, had accused A2 Corporation of marketing milk that actually contained traces of A1 milk.

Since 2004 Fresha Valley has been working with a Nigel Bradley and his dedicated herd of A2 cows, taking its processing capability to a larger scale.

Nigel runs a split calving herd (in fact he calves 3 times) so that he can supply milk all year round. During the season hes milking anything from 180 -240 cows.

The property is right next to the Fresha Valley factory. Its roughly 330acres.

As weve discovered recently with the Clearwater family A2 exists in about 1/3 of most dairy herds already. There is a rumour that most of the LICs top dairy bulls are A2 and it has been suggested that Fonterra is quietly encouraging suppliers to A2 (this is only a rumour and comes from A2 supporters).

Back to Nigel: He says he got his whole herd tested for A2. He sold the 2/3 of the herd that werent A2 and then went around the herd sales looking for A2 cows.

Nowadays the herd is closed and Nigel brings in certified A2 semen from LIC.

Nigel says the payout is slightly better than standard but that is understandable given the effort that has gone into converting the herd over.

He says this season is his 11th with Paul and George. He says it is a great business to be involved in and that Paul and George have worked liked dogs to make the business happen.

Supplying milk to 150 supermarkets isnt without its challenges, particularly in shipping to the South Island. Paul Jensen says getting distribution up and running was a headache but they have them sorted now.

The company had grown from a staff of two to a team of 27 and future focus would continue to be on A2 milk. Paul says theyve put a lot of time and effort into the A2 side of the business and he believes demand for the milk will continues to increase.

Despite the increased supermarket uptake, New Zealand has a way to go before it is consuming the same level of A2 milk as Australia. A2 milk is now sold in 1400 stores across the Tasman through a joint venture between A2 Corporation and diversified food, agribusiness and property group FNP.