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Inside Natrel’s ‘milk bar’ in Montreal’s Griffintown neighbourhood.HANS LAURENDEAU

At a new haunt in Montreal's trendy Griffintown neighbourhood, lights that look like white droplets hang from the ceiling and customers can sit in booths designed to look like milk cartons.

Coffee chain Java u and milk brand Natrel are hoping that the concept café, part of a new partnership between the two companies, will prove a success – drawing in coffee drinkers with a novel experience, and persuading people to drink more milk in the process.

The Natrel Milk Bar by Java u so far exists in one location, which opened last week. But the early feedback has been so positive, the partners are now considering locations in Toronto and Vancouver.

"We've been wanting to have a retail space to be face to face with consumers for a long time," said Caroline Losson, vice-president of marketing for Natrel, a brand of Quebec's Agropur dairy co-operative. "Milk consumption has been declining in Canada for the past 20 years, and more severely in the past few years. That's a worldwide phenomenon. …We need to have people think about milk differently; to have them think about the milk they put in their coffee is one way to do that."

According to Statistics Canada, milk sales fell roughly 15 per cent on a volume basis between 2002 and 2014. Natrel is not the only player in the industry attempting to combat this downward trend.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada, for example, has positioned chocolate milk as suitable post-workout nutrition, emphasizing its protein content. This year's campaign has also focused on the drink's health benefits.

Kids typically stop drinking as much milk in their teenage years, so some of the marketing in Canada has focused on younger consumers. Last year, Milk West – a group of Western Canadian dairy producers – launched cartoon videos aimed at teens online and on social media. The videos feature a cartoon milk carton's humorous adventures with compatriots, such as a cookie, a muffin, and a sandwich.

In 2012, the Prairie Milk Marketing Partnership appealed to the same group through their love of mobile games, such as Angry Birds – by creating a free iPhone game called Milk vs. Cats.

Canada's Strategic Milk Alliance has also begun focusing on adults aged 35 to 49 who are drinking much less milk than they did in the past. The "Milk Every Moment" sought to create nostalgia for childhood, and to remind viewers of how they drank milk during that time. Ads also showed milk paired with comfort foods, such as chocolate cake, cookies, and grilled cheese sandwiches. In the last half of 2013, when the campaign first ran, the decline in milk consumption slowed to 1.9 per cent from 2.7 per cent.

Consumers are increasingly health-conscious, but also concerned about where their food comes from. Last year, Agropur redesigned its packaging to emphasize a more natural look.

While milk consumption over all has been falling, Natrel's research showed that people are drinking it more in their coffee. At Java u, store staff also noticed that people were asking for more varieties of milk.

The Milk Bar features seven varieties, compared with a typical location that has between three and five. Those include lactose-free milk in skim and 2 per cent, and in cream. It also offers organic milk, and a maple-flavoured milk.

The café also offers bottled iced lattes, milkshakes, and a food menu that incorporates milk into sauces and dressings.

For younger consumers, who are among the most important segments to bring back to milk consumption, being able to customize purchases to their exact personal taste is important. Ms. Losson, the Natrel marketing vice-president, said she feels the wider range of options will draw in those customers. The café will customize milkshakes at visitors' requests, and will take their suggestions for upcoming menu items.

"It's a cool, newer, more happening neighbourhood," said Brian Cytrynbaum, executive chairman of Java u. "It allows for us to connect with more people."

In September, Mr. Cytrynbaum plans to host a barista competition in Montreal – showcasing the latte art that skilled baristas can make by making textures in foamed milk to form pictures of hearts, or even more complex shapes. The Milk Bar will be highlighted as part of that event, he said.

Ad agency Lg2 designed the space.

"We hired an ad agency to do the design because we wanted to communicate something beyond being a cool place," Ms. Losson said. "It's really a lifestyle space. That allows for people to think about it differently. … If it flies, we'll produce it mass scale."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of the headline on this story incorrectly referred to Natrel as a dairy co-op.

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