Last week, I received a curious press release about a new Hershey product: a co-branded chocolate milk from Hershey and The a2 Milk Company, marking Hershey’s first partnership with a premium milk company. Hershey’s a2 Milk is scheduled to hit retailers’ shelves beginning in January 2022, and it’s marketed as a “natural chocolate milk” that could “help avoid stomach discomfort in some people” thanks to something called the A2 protein. But what is the A2 protein, and can it actually reduce my ever-present gastric distress?
Per The a2 Milk Company, A2 milk comes from cows that naturally produce only the A2 protein. For context, most dairy products feature a combination of both A1 and A2 proteins. But research suggests that the A1 protein is what causes stomach discomfort in some people, producing a peptide called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) as it’s digested in the small intestine. Medical News Today explains that some doctors link BCM-7 to stomach discomfort and other symptoms common in lactose intolerance.
Meanwhile, the structure of the A2 protein is comparable to that of human breast milk. In other words, you might not be lactose intolerant—your body just might not process the A1 protein very comfortably.
With this in mind, the a2 Milk Company was founded with the goal of distributing milk from cows that naturally produce only the A2 protein. Those cows feature a natural genetic mutation that gives their milk a slightly different protein ratio. (Quick note that, while The a2 Milk Company is known for popularizing this kind of milk for a global audience, the company doesn’t have a proprietary claim on A2 milk; rather, the company brands its milk with a lowercase “a.”)
“Some people think they are lactose intolerant, but have never been tested for it, and they may actually be sensitive to the A1 protein in regular milk,” says a2 Milk Company CEO Blake Waltrip. “A2 Milk comes from cows that naturally produce only the A2 protein and no A1. Published research suggests A2 Milk may help avoid stomach discomfort in some people.”
It all sounds great; however, at this time, the existing scientific evidence surrounding A2 milk is inconclusive. While the jury’s still out on A2 milk’s exact benefits, this is the latest example of the functional beverage trend that’s been dominating grocery shelves for the last year.
“This new chocolate milk is the latest example of how we are expanding The Hershey Company in to expanded better-for-you categories,” said Ernie Savo, Senior Director of Global Licensing, The Hershey Company.
Worst-case scenario, A2 milk fails to live up to its digestive promises and you end up with a bellyache. Best-case scenario, A2 milk could save some consumers from a wasteland of alternative milks. Only one way to find out.