Rahul Sachitanand
Oct 5, 2020

Dear dairy: Two brands benefit by milking booming demand during a downturn

ASIA'S TOP 1000 BRANDS: Alaska Milk and Bear Brand have built a distinctly Filipino identity, despite divergent roots, to skyrocket up this year's ranking.

Dear dairy: Two brands benefit by milking booming demand during a downturn


At a time when consumers are holding back or restricting their purchases, two dairy brands, one locally owned and one owned by a multinational—but both building out a distinctly Filipino identity—have shot up this year’s Top 100 brands in the country. While Alaska Milk, the near five-decade old dairy brand has shot up 45 places from 97th to 52nd place in the country’s rankings, the Nestle-owned Bear Brand has gone up from 51st to 22nd place.

At a time when The Philippines has been rocked by economic uncertainty and its prospects further clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic, these two dairy companies have become the stable bedrock for Filipinos to anchor their lives, say experts. “People consider milk as a way to stay healthy and strong – adding this to their repertoire of vitamins and vegetables,” says Francine Kahn-Gonzalez, CEO, BBDO Guerrero. “Historically milk brands have advertised along these lines… Bear Brand and Alaska are some of the most established brands in the category because of their strong heritage and are more affordably priced.”

Even as these brands have promoted the health benefits of milk, their campaigns have also gone beyond to strengthen their brands over the past year. For example, Alaska in November 2019, unveiled a tear-jerking ad focussed on dementia. “The Philippines is experiencing a significant demographic aging … dementia is becoming more prevalent … we want our holiday efforts to be more hardworking; to be driven by the desire to give back more than ever,” Harvey Uong, marketing and business development director, had told Campaign when this was released.

Then, in February 2020, Alaska doubled down on this viral video (five million views at the time of publication) with another emotive campaign, also from MullenLowe. In this video, called Lataphone, a couple of Alaska Milk cans literally bridge the gap between upstairs-downstairs neighbours who both need a friend.

Both Dairy brands have been able to connect with consumers at a challenging time by being “culturally as Filipino as it gets and have a strong generational appeal that’s familiar and comforting,” says Juan Manuel De Borja, strategic planning director, Grey Philippines.  He explains that Alaska has been in sports marketing for decades and has had a team in the Philippine Basketball Association since the mid-1980s (they are also active in other sports like triathlons and football), while Bear, which has been around in the Philippines since the 1900s has evolved towards an almost purely Filipino identity.  

“I think it’s a testament to Bear Brand that if you contrast current communications which are very colloquial to those from decades ago, the old ones seem so out of character and foreign … It’s almost as if it was some other brand with its formal use of English and references to Swiss roots,” he adds.

Despite the potential in this market, The Philippines manufactures very little of its own dairy products and imports almost all of its requirements. As demand for dairy has gotten broader based, imports soared by 21% in 2019, according to one recent report. From being a product consumed by children, brands such as Alaska and Bear have attempted to extend the reach of dairy products further afield.

“Many Filipinos stop drinking milk after their late teens … New milk-based brands like Nutriboost are making a strong play for young adults with flavours, additional health benefits, and fresh packaging,” says De Borja of Grey. “It would be interesting to see if they can make milk a part of Filipino life from when older teens transition into the adulthood phase.”

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