Milk is historically considered an efficient superfood. It is a great energy source from lactose and fat, naturally rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphate, B vitamins, and iodine, and nutritionally complete in the protein profile for healthy growth and regeneration of bones and muscles. 80% of the protein structure in milk is made up of casein (alpha-, beta- and kappa-casein), representing the portion reacting with the inoculated rennet during cheese making.
Beta-casein, which is about 30‒35% of the total casein, is different in milk, depending on the cow’s genetics. Traditionally, the beta-casein in cow’s milk was the same as the primary protein in human milk: A2 /A2 beta-casein, which was the most natural to the human body and easily absorbed. Over time, a genetic mutation in cows caused an A1 beta-casein variation, resulting in cows with two types of proteins coexisting: A1 and A2, with the former being of dominant character on the genetic expression of the dairy herds. The genetic codes synthesizing the two proteins are almost identical; still, there are small variations. While there is no strong scientific research, anecdotal evidence suggests that milk containing only the A2 protein is easier to digest for people dealing with gut inflammation, bloating, and diarrhea typically associated with lactose intolerance. Besides these benefits, the A2 milk type is also a rich source of healthy and essential omega-3 fatty acids.
A downside of A2 cow’s milk is its premium price tag, which is about twice that of traditional cow’s milk. This is because the company pays suppliers a premium price for the A2 milk and since farmers can take more than five years of constant testing to breed a herd with 100% A2 genetics.
Unlike lactose-free milk alternatives, A2 milk production is the same as normal milk production; the difference comes on the field in breeding the cows. After testing cows to see if they produce A2 or A1 milk, farmers will breed out the A1 genetics from a cow. Each cow must be tested before being approved to be used for A2 milk production.
Scientists believe the difference between cow herds with A1 and A2 milk protein originated as a mutation that occurred between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, as cattle were being taken north into Europe, and then a genetic mutation in the synthesis of the protein accidentally occurred and widely spread throughout the Western world through breeding. The A1 and A2 beta-casein protein percentages vary between herds of cattle and between countries and provinces. While African and Asian cattle continue to produce only A2 beta-casein, the A1 version of the milk protein is common among cattle in the Western world. The A1 beta-casein type is the most common type found in Holstein, Fresian, and Ayrshire cow’s milk in Europe (excluding France), the US, Australia, and New Zealand. A2, instead, has a high incidence in cattle breeds from the British Channel Islands, such as the Jersey and Guernsey, or the Charolais and Limousine from France, the Brown Swiss from Switzerland, and the Blaarkop from the Netherlands.
In 2020, the global A2 milk market reached an incredible value of USD 8 billion. The expanding income levels and the growing awareness about the nutritional benefits of A2 milk have stimulated the growth of the market worldwide. Looking forward, market researchers expect the global A2 milk market to reach a value of USD 21 billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 18% during that time—which almost doubles the pace of the market forecasted by 2027 for plant-based dairy milk alternatives (10%.) That means that the conventional dairy milk market, when innovated with elements of what the consumer may want more, won’t be abated by the aggressively-marketed plant-based ‘milk’ alternatives. The two categories will peacefully coexist to satisfy the demand of a consumer looking for ‘more’ options but more’ specialty,’ at the same time.
Specialty food products featuring A2 milk as a consumer driver:
Even if scientific evidence doesn’t clearly prove the benefits of consuming A2 milk over the most commercial A1 variety, A2 cow’s milk may still be preferable to eliminating dairy foods from the diet altogether or turning to plant-based alternative beverages tout-court, both of which may increase the risk of nutrient shortcomings.