I rarely forget a funny aftertaste.
Today, a mysterious box of milk arrived at the Vox NYC office. As the foremost expert on the cow-based drinkables, I agreed to a taste test.
Fairlife advertises itself as "cold-filtered" milk with less sugar and fat and more protein and calcium than its competitors. And not just that: Fairlife's also lactose-free. The claims are as exciting as they're capitalistic — high-end, ultra-healthy milk! — doubly so when you consider Fairlife is the latest creation by Coca-Cola, a company that built its legacy on soda, a leading cause of obesity.
Fairlife is real milk
But Fairlife is no soda. And yes, it technically is real milk; the "REAL" seal, eligible for use by dairy product manufacturers, is proudly displayed beneath an explanation of how the magic milk is made.
To my surprise, Fairlife tastes, well, like milk. It looks and feels a little thicker than traditional milk, and has a slightly richer taste, especially the chocolate milk, which sits on the spectrum between chocolate shake and milk that's stewed on a lazy Saturday morning in a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. But in a blind taste test, I'd probably struggle differentiating it from the other milks on sale at my grocer.
The aftertaste is malty
Fairlife's aftertaste is less appealing. A few minutes sipping a cup of chocolate Fairlife and then a cup of 2% Fairlife, the inside of my mouth had that malty feel that chases a protein shake. Makes sense: the filtration process used by Fairlife is the same one used to produce Coca-Cola's protein shake, Core Power.
What's even gnarlier, though, is Fairlife's ad campaign. You're bound to see the images if you Google Fairlife, a cursory practice I do for any new food product I consume, especially if the product promises to be markedly healthier than the competition.
Late last year, Fairlife found itself in the center of Twitterstorm after the company released a number of promotional images featuring nude women concealed by clothes made of milk — a bizarre pseudo-throwback to pin-up models of the 1940s, just, you know, covered in milk.
The worst ad of the bunch shows a human woman's face digitally glued atop an impossibly thin body that appears to be detonating a fart powerful enough to shred through the rear of her milk skirt. The digitized woman stands in heels on a bathroom scale — even though the ad makes no mention of the weight, sugar, or fat. (The ads appear to be riffing on these pin-ups, which sort of explains the scale's placement, but doesn't explain how these "real women" have thinner legs than animated women.)
'Drink what she's wearing'
In large print above the photo, the ad exclaims, "DRINK WHAT SHE'S WEARING. Milk with 50% more protein & calcium." So at worst the ad is selling consumers on the idea of drinking ultra-filtered milk off an ultra-sexualized woman, and at worst it's selling you 2% fart milk. The remaining Fairlife ads are equal parts awkward and demeaning, though mercifully none involve explosive gas.
Otherwise Fairlife has honed its pitch as a healthy, natural dairy product. Its marketing sheet contains phrases like "We grow our own crops," "We fill our own trucks," and it describes its cows as "spoiled." "Our cows have comfortable beds," the sheet says, "and freestanding stalls [...] Cows love to stay cool, so in the warm summer months we use fans to maintain a 7 mph breeze over the feed manger and over the cows' beds."
All of the buzzy promo speak sounds nice, but when it comes to something as healthful and natural as milk, Coca-Cola has a lot of trust to rebuild — at least for me. It's numerous controversies, including the unforgettable "Coming Together" ad campaign, a laughable attempt to respond to soda's connection to the obesity epidemic. I want to drink a healthier milk; I'll pay more for it. But it'll take awhile to get past that aftertaste.