Most “sugar free” products are not basic ingredients like milk. they’re a combination of a bunch of ingredients, like a cake or a soda. The ordinary version is made with real sugar & the 'sugar free" version is made with fake sugar substitute.
In other words, “sugar free” really means “no real sugar added (but fake sugar substitute probably was)”.
That’s a totally different idea from “this basic raw agricultural product has had its naturally ocurring sugar removed”.
Hood’s Calorie Countdown is watered-down milk with sucralose (Splenda) added. Here’s the ingredients for the chocolate variety:
There are plenty of good marketing reasons why this isn’t more common.
Milk benefits greatly from the enormous economies of scale that it generates. Any alternative to milk to appeals to a smaller audience can’t hope to match milk’s price. Hood sells for about twice the cost of regular milk. So do other niche products like lactose-free milk and most organic milks.
Milk naturally contains about 12 grams of lactose per 8 ounce glass, as you said. Lactose is a mildly sweet sugar, much less sweet than sucrose. It gives milk a distinct flavor that is almost impossible to duplicate. A knock against lactose-free milk is that the lactose is removed by splitting it into the simpler sugars glucose and galactose, both of which, oddly, are sweeter than lactose. Many people don’t like the taste. And of course it has exactly as much sugar as regular milk, just different sugars.
While diet colas are a major industry, diet varieties of other drinks are less favored, partly because the taste is never right and partly because many people don’t think of other beverages as a calorie heavy part of a meal.
So you have a product that costs more, tastes weird, and that few people want in the first place. (Hood was originally Carb Countdown, when low-carb products were the rage. You know how long that lasted.) That’s the definition of a niche product. It’s surprising that there is even one company that is willing to venture into it and not at all surprising that there is little competition for the spot.
If you leave fresh cow’s milk to stand, the fat will separate itself. The tricky part is in fact getting the fat to remix with the skimmed milk and stay mixed. This process is called homogenization, which amounts to breaking down the fat into such tiny pieces that the pieces stay suspended in milk.
On the other hand, the sugars in cow’s milk do not naturally separate. Perhaps some mechanical or chemical process could be invented to separate them, but so far nobody’s worked out how.
Sure they have. There are several processes for mechanically removing lactose from milk that are used in children’s formulas. It’s more expensive, but that’s not always a problem with specialty formulas.
And the use of lactase to remove lactose from milk is certainly a chemical process.
Lactose is actually two sugar molecules (glucose and galactose) linked together. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce the enzyme to clip the bond between them. Lactose-free milk has had the bond clipped by adding the enzyme to the milk. The lactose is gone, but the glucose and galactose sugars remain.
That has nothing to do with its being lactose free and everything to do with its being a niche product.
Lactose free milk is ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized because stores know it won’t disappear off the shelves instantly the way regular milk does, and also because people tend not to use as much of it as families use regular milk so a carton has to last longer. UHT pasteurization is what keeps lactose free milk fresh for so long. UHT also changes the taste slightly, although modern techniques are better than they once were. Lots of the alternative milk and dairy free products use UHT because of the comparatively low turnover.
Hood’s product is in fact sugar free milk. I think they just branded it “Dairy Beverage” to save money:
Apparently, the USDA classifies all dairy products into four groups based on the amount of nonfat solids they contain. Class I products (which typically are liquid milk) have to pay more for milk from dairy farmers under State and Federal Milk Marketing Boards than Class II (typically creme and yogurt), Class III (cheeses), or Class IV (butter). I couldn’t tell you why that is, but apparently in 2005 Hood convinced the USDA to classify their Dairy Beverage as class II instead of I over objections by dairy farmers. Hood formulated their product to fall below the class I specification which is 6.5% nonfat solids. The milk industry proposed a switch to a protein standard instead where anything below 2.5% protein is class II.
Also, it appears this isn’t the first time a new milk product caused a stir in the industry.
“‘Forty years ago, nonfat skim milk was priced at the Class II level, and no one was too concerned because it was felt that milk without fat would never catch on in popularity,’ Kozak said. ‘But as its sales began to rise at the expense of Class I milk products, dairy producers realized that some adjustments were necessary in how skim milk was priced, otherwise it would have really become a major economic problem for us in the years since. The situation today, with a new generation of dairy beverages that are competing with and taking sales from conventional Class I products, is no different.’”
In 2006 the USDA adopted the protein standard and put low-carb milks back into class I.