Milk consumption at lowest in decades

Americans are drinking less milk as sports drinks, water and other beverages pour it on.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to milk sales instead of milk consumption. U.S. milk consumption per capita has been declining for decades. The text has been corrected.


 

Sarah Gardner: This summer's extreme heat and drought will be with us for a while. And you don't have to look further than the dairy section of your grocery store. Analysts expect milk prices to rise sharply over the next few months, thanks to higher feed costs and lower production. But dairy farmers may have a bigger worry. Americans have been turning up their noses at milk for other reasons.

Marketplace's Amy Scott found out why.


Amy Scott We've been drinking less and less milk for decades per person, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Milk producers blame competition from newfangled products, like coconut water and sports drink.

Vivian Godfrey: People are drinking these new and interesting beverages at the expense of milk.

Vivian Godfrey is CEO of the trade group behind the "Got Milk" ad campaign. She says the biggest threat isn't all that new -- aside from the container.

Godfrey: The single beverage, though, that has really taken share away from milk over the past decade is bottled water.

Why water? Jerry Dryer is an analyst and consultant to dairy processors. He says it may be the shelf life.

Jerry Dryer: You can have a bottle of water sitting around for six months and finally chill it and drink it. That doesn't work with a glass of milk.

There is such a thing as shelf-stable milk. No fridge required. But Dryer says the industry hasn't done a good job of selling it in the U.S. Some milk sales have shifted to other forms of dairy, like yogurt. Then there are all those milk alternatives.

Scott inside a grocery store: OK, here I am at the dairy case. We've got soy milk, vanilla, plain. We've got almond milk unsweetened sweetened, vanilla...

Research firm Mintel says health concerns and lactose intolerance are driving more people to seek substitutes. Cow's milk producers are fighting back. The "Got Milk" folks have some new campaigns pushing breakfast at home. Turns out cereal sales are down, too. And they're promoting, of all things, chocolate milk as a post-workout drink.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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