In late January, Pune-based organic foods and dairy company Humpy Farms shot to fame after raising Rs 1 crore (US$128,000) on the reality television show Shark Tank India. Its founders sold a 15% stake at a valuation of Rs 6.67 crore (US$850,000) to three “sharks”—Peyush Bansal, co-founder of eyewear retail chain Lenskart; Ghazal Alagh, co-founder of skincare brand Mamaearth; and Vineeta Singh, co-founder of SUGAR Cosmetics. 

While Humpy Farms sells products like organic fruits, rice, millets, and flour, 80% of its sales comes from dairy products, its founders said during their pitch on the show. They also drew the sharks’ attention to how their dairy products are made from what is known as A2 milk.

A2 is a variant of beta-casein, the largest protein found in milk. While all cows originally produced only A2 milk, genetic mutation over the years led to many starting to produce another variant called A1 as well. 

Since about 2015, 50-odd startups and small-sized dairy companies have cropped up in India, mostly in tier 1-2 cities, claiming to sell certified A2 milk. These companies claim that A2 milk is easier to digest and is better suited for people with diabetes, heart disease, and lactose intolerance. lactose intolerance. Lactose Intolerance People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest the sugar (lactose) in milk. As a result, they have diarrhea, gas and bloating

However, there is “next to no scientific evidence” to show that A2 milk has superior health benefits compared with regular milk, said a researcher from India’s National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI). The researcher and some other sources have been anonymised in this story at their request—they were either not authorised to speak with the media or did not want to be seen commenting on a peer company.

Indian consumers, though, seem to have bought into the hype. According to market research by beverage brand Hugg Beverages, Indians are ready to pay anywhere from 2-4X the price of regular milk for A2 milk. A litre of cow’s milk from the Mother Dairy brand, for instance, sells for Rs 50 (US$0.6). Ghaziabad-based Hetha Organics prices its A2 milk at Rs 180 (US$2.3) per litre. Hetha’s ghee (clarified butter), derived from A2 milk, is sold at Rs 5,000 (US$65) per litre, up to 10X the cost of regular ghee. 

“The market-led euphoria for Indian cow breeds like Gir [which are known to produce A2 milk known to produce A2 milk NDDB Cow Breeds Read more ] is so heady that prices for a cow of a very good bloodline have jumped from Rs 35,000 (US$450) per animal to up to Rs 1.5 lakh (US$1,900) over the past few years,” said an executive from DeLaval, a Swedish company that manufactures dairy and farming machinery, and works with Indian farmers on the ground. 

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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