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Dairy Plant. Conveyor with milk bottles.

Without Coffee Drinks, Adult Consumption Could Be Near Zero
The long-term, dramatic decline in white milk per capita consumption is well documented. But the implications for dairy families are enormous and, in my opinion, irreversible.  And the hemorrhaging is not just the result of competitive beverages, non-dairy “milks” and the fact that Lactose Intolerance is the disease de jour. There are other factors that make even slowing the decline in per capita immensely complicated and challenging.

  • Yogurt is displacing milk. This dairy tradeoff is taking place throughout the day, at virtually every meal and snack occasion. Unflavored yogurt is healthy, convenient, has a long shelf life and carries a huge range of flavors and textures from cereals to fruit. Flavored yogurt comes in a multitude of shapes and sizes, an endless variety of flavors (most recently savory) and many price points. It is available in every grocery format and almost all quick service restaurants and C-stores. It does not have any stigmas attached to it. It is eaten by everyone, from babies to boomers and from our inner cities to rural America. If all of these assets weren’t enough, yogurt is heavily branded and supported by billions of dollars of marketing and promotion support. It has, I believe, displaced milk as “the perfect food.”
  • Retailers and foodservice operators are not “loyal” to milk. There is no longer a “dairy case”. Retailers will sell whatever products have the highest turns and margins. Witness the shelf space that plant based “milks” have stolen from white milk. The same is beginning to happen as plant-based foods enter the yogurt and ice cream sections. But perhaps the most dramatic example of this void in loyalty is in the meat category. Plant based “meats” like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are being given significant shelf space in national grocery chains and, perhaps more strikingly, on fast food menus.
  • Children are making the beverage decision at an earlier and earlier age and they are not choosing milk. Gone are the days when parents could mandate a glass of milk because it was “good for you”. Today’s kids are given the liberty to choose from a seemingly endless array of beverages in countless flavors, many without calories and in single serve packages. Complicating this issue is that there is little evidence that nutrition education leads to positive behavior change. It is my understanding that a large proportion (50%+) of school milk goes on the tray but ends up in trash. (Of course, serving it at near room temperature and in cartons that don’t open from either side doesn’t help.) I would propose that flavor and branded beverage marketing is far more powerful than a lecture on Calcium by a parent or educator.
  • Unlike any other beverage, white milk is “trapped” by its close association with children and its strong links to highly sugared foods. Unless it is called a latte or mocha or Frappuccino, white milk out of a glass is not an adult drink. One could make a strong argument that without coffee drink and cereal usage, adult per capita could be very close to zero. The association with cake and cookies and sugared cereal is now an anchor on milk. In one of nutrition’s great ironies, we are obsessed with cutting calories at the same time obesity is afflicting tens of millions of Americans, including a growing number of children.
  • So, the future for white milk in this country seems bleak. However, the dairy industry could take action that would significantly slow the consumption decline of white milk and perhaps and thereby increase returns to dairy families and processors. At the risk of stepping on political landmines, below are the steps we could explore.

Eight butter products sold nationally in various supermarkets are being recalled over fears of contamination.

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