Myths busted: Milk price wars do lower prices mean less nutritious milks?
Are own-brand milks less nutritious than branded milks? Accredited Practising Dietitian Liz Munn looks at the facts to help you make the right choice for your nutritional needs and budget.
Thanks to the price wars started by the supermarket chains, there’s now a two-tier milk price in place. Setting aside questions about prices paid to farmers and market power, it’s not surprising that many consumers are wondering if cheaper, own-brand milks are as nutritious as the more expensive branded products.
Q: Does regular full cream own-brand milk have fewer nutrients than more expensive branded milk?
Before the price wars, regular full cream milk was just as it stated, no matter which brand you bought. Since some milk prices have dropped, nothing’s changed.
Milk is a natural product, so when it’s expressed by the cow, it can vary from day to day, and from cow to cow. To deliver a consistent product, manufacturers often blend or modify it in various ways: removing various amounts of milk fat; and adding back extra milk liquid which has had the protein filtered out, for example. However, there’s not much room for them to manoeuvre – the Food Standards Code (FSANZ) insists that full cream milk contain at least 3.2% dairy fat and 3% protein. This protects the milk from being ‘watered down’ by manufacturers, since that would adversely affect the nutrient and calcium content.
Q: What about functional/fortified milks? Are they better choices than own-brand milks?
Own-brand milks are available in low-fat and skim varieties, and these are nutritionally similar to branded ones. These milks also have to meet certain standards: both low-fat and skim milk must contain at least 3% protein, and news low-fat milk must have no more than 1.5% fat, while skim milk has no more than 0.15% fat. You may also find some own-brand low-fat milks with added calcium and protein, however the exact amounts will vary across brands.
If you’re looking for something more nutritionally specific, such as added omega-3s, you’ll need to buy a brand name milk, as you generally won’t find cheaper own-brand milks with these types of added extras. Ultimately, it’s a trade-off between your particular nutritional needs or taste preferences, and a reduced price.
Q: Is it safe to buy the cheapest milk available?
There are no safety issues with less expensive own-brand milk – all types of milks must meet basic standards and requirements to be called milk and be suitable for sale in supermarkets and shops.
The bottom line
Any nutritional differences between own-brand milk and the equivalent type of branded milk aren’t significant – you’ll get the same nutrition regardless of price, so buy according to your needs and budget.