It seems that lately in the “news de jour” there is frequently something about dairy foods or the dairy business. For example, on November 12 of this year, Dean Foods Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Since that date, anyone who even casually keeps up with the news would have seen story after story about the reasons the nation’s largest milk processing company was failing. Even Saturday Night Live aired a skit about Dean’s dilemma a week after the filing. But – and here’s the funny thing – it seems that almost as many positive stories about milk and dairy have appeared in the news lately, opposite the speculation about “the decline of the milk industry.” So, what is up with dairy?
Some of the answers to that question (as with most things that have a “side”) depends on who’s providing the answers and their personal points of view. If you’re a committed vegan or happen to think milk from a cow is bad for you, then your answer is somewhere along the lines of, “I told you so… milk alternatives like soy, oat, almond, and coconut have destroyed the dairy milk business.” Conversely, if you’re a dairy lover and eat and/or cook with milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products, then your answer is somewhere along the lines of, “I’ve been hearing these horror stories for years; for every article written that says dairy is bad, I read one that says it’s good.”
So, what is the truth? Yes, Dean Foods Company was failing financially. And yes, part of that failure was due to a slow but consistent decline in demand for fluid milk. But there were a lot of other reasons that contributed to that bankruptcy, most of which can be found in recent news articles. It wasn’t ALL due to declining milk sales. And for the most part, dairy products have received some very good reports recently from health and nutrition experts, and that has generated renewed consumer confidence in most dairy products, including whole milk. Across the board, it seems the dairy industry is enjoying some good product news lately. At least, these reports have helped to debunk some “theories” that were either factually false or misleading. And all of this has helped consumers get back to thinking about milk and dairy as good, wholesome products for them and their families.
Some of the good news about dairy is that it’s still one of the best ways to meet your needs for nine essential vitamins and minerals: phosphorous, B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin, and protein. That’s been known for many years, but it’s interesting that this fact is now becoming better known because consumers are comparing these values to milk alternatives. Most non-dairy “milk” (soy, almond, oat, coconut, and others) contain only one or two natural vitamins or minerals. The rest are artificially added, and some add sugar. Most all of them lack protein. Grade A, natural whole milk has more naturally occurring vitamins and minerals than any of the milk alternatives, and no added sugar. So, the comparison is favorable, and consumers are taking notice.
Other good news that has made a resurgence lately is that milk is excellent for women’s health (including skin, bones, teeth, and heart), as well as early childhood development.
In addition, while the Dean Foods filing and the ongoing “anti-milk” group news has created some negative speculation about milk, it’s interesting to note the real numbers against that speculation. The U. S. fluid milk category has declined about 4% year over year (through Sept. of this year). But that’s NOT because of some massive hit to real milk sales by milk alternatives. According to data presented in a report from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), for the six weeks ending September 8, 2019, about 400 million gallons of milk were sold versus fewer than 100 million gallons of plant-based milk alternatives. Based on those numbers, the score is real milk 4, alternatives 1.
Actually, a drop in cereal sales and a decline in the number of households with children are big factors in falling milk consumption. That’s easy to see in today’s world, with younger households and healthier eating habits that don’t include sugar-coated cereals, plus, a much larger choice in drinks. In fact, a 2017 study from IRI, a data and analytics company, found that 53% of the volume milk lost went to bottled water drinkers. Not sodas, not milk alternatives. Water. Still, 94% of all U. S. households have dairy products in their refrigerators, and dairy consumption overall has risen by nearly 20%. In fact, volume sales of cheese and yogurt are up significantly this year and chocolate milk continues to be a staple for athletes as a recovery drink.
As I stated earlier in this letter, the dairy industry will always have consumers on the “anti-” side as well as on the “pro-” side. It’s telling that for decades, there have always been a lot more people on pro side – and that group continues to grow. Evidence of that growth are the recent comebacks of a number of dairy categories, and the resurgence of “good news” about dairy products has given consumers new perspectives about why milk can, and should be, a part of good things in their lives.
About Southwest/Southland Dairy Farmers
The Southwest Dairy Farmers and Southland Dairy Farmers is an alliance of dairy farmers from twelve southwest and southeast states who have pooled their resources through the U.S. Dairy Check Off program to provide consumer education, promote dairy product use, and enhance the image of the dairy industry. These dairy producers direct and fund all activities through Southwest/Southland Dairy Farmers, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For additional information: www.southwestdairyfarmers.com