Milk sales record 'healthy' increase

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 June, 2002, 12:00am

Sales of milk surged in Hong Kong last year - despite the fact most adults have difficulty digesting it - on the back of aggressive marketing promoting its health benefits.

Other items promoted as healthy, which made it on to a list compiled by research firm ACNielsen of the Top 10 sales growth products, included breakfast cereal and chewing gum.

'Marketers have been very creative in positioning new chewing gum products to the public - we see that chewing gum is now even promoted as an effective cold remedy,' said ACNielsen's North Asia managing director Fung Shing-kwong.

'Sales of milk are benefiting from deep price promotions and product positioning of milk as one of the best sources of calcium and a health product,' he said.

Sales of soya drinks and drinks containing fruit juice also grew, but the fastest-growing category was ready-to-drink tea.

However, not all items in the Top 10 sales growth categories - as measured in dollar terms, not unit sales - were marketed on health grounds.

Money spent on chocolate grew by more than 10 per cent, as did that spent on corn or potato chips. Frozen dim sum sales also grew, in what retailers said was a mark of its convenience, low price and quality.

Milk was ranked fourth in the growth category stakes.

Wellcome marketing director Doug Brown said the appeal of healthy products was particularly marked when it came to parents buying food and drinks for their children.

Gastroenterologist Edwin Lam said most Chinese developed an intolerance to lactose, a component of milk, as they grew into adults. While many could nevertheless tolerate small amounts, some developed intestinal problems such as gas and diarrhoea, he said.

Milk could be treated with pills to lower its lactose content, but these were not readily available in Hong Kong despite being easily available in Western countries where rates of lactose-intolerance were lower, Dr Lam said.

He called on drug companies to make these available to help people who wanted to increase the calcium in their diets - although Nestle confirmed it had recently launched a lactose-reduced milk.

Dr Lam said Hong Kong diets were generally low in calcium, although one of the best traditional sources was tofu.

Associate Professor Georgia Guldan, of the food and nutritional sciences programme at Chinese University, said the increase in milk consumption was welcome, particularly if it was in low-fat milk. Cereal was also a healthier alternative breakfast to popular sweet buns but not necessarily more nutritional than traditional foods such as congee or noodle soup, she said.