Lactococcus lactis is used as cell-factory and strain selections are regularly performed to improve production processes. When selection regimes only allow desired phenotypes to survive, for instance by using antibiotics to select for cells that do not grow in a specific condition, the presence of more resistant subpopulations with a wildtype genotype severely slows down the procedure. While the food grade organism L. lactis is not often exposed to antibiotics we characterized its response to ampicillin in more detail, to better understand emerging population heterogeneity and how this might affect strain selection procedures. Using growth-dependent viability assays we identified persister subpopulations in stationary and exponential phase. Growth-independent viability assays revealed a 100 times larger subpopulation that did not grow on plates or in liquid medium, but had an intact membrane and could maintain a pH gradient. Over one third of these cells restored their intracellular pH when we induced a temporary collapse, indicating that this subpopulation was metabolically active and in a viable but non-culturable state. Exposure of L. lactis MG1363 to ampicillin therefore results in a heterogeneous population response with different dormancy states. These dormant cells should be considered in survival-based strain selection procedures.