Have People Stopped Drinking Milk?

woman drinking milk
According to new reports, dairy farmers, milk processors and grocery chains are starting to worry.


There has been an ongoing decline in U.S. milk consumption, and that decline is accelerating.

The industry “is coming to recognize this as a crisis,” says Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc., a farmer-funded trade group that promotes milk products. “We cannot simply assume that we will always have a market.”

Per-capita U.S. milk consumption, which peaked around World War II, has fallen almost 30% since 1975, even as sales of yogurt, cheese, organic milk and other dairy products have risen, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Americans drank an average of 20.2 gallons of milk last year, a decline of 3.3% from the previous year and the biggest year-over-year slide since at least 1975, according to the USDA.

Why? Experts point to the increased popularity of bottled water, as well as the perception that milk is high calories. In addition, many people, particularly African Americans, are lactose-intolerant. Also, the recent increases in the price of milk, a result of the soaring costs for grains fed to dairy cows, hasn’t exactly helped matters.

To revive sales, milk companies and retailers are pushing smaller, more-convenient packages and health-oriented varieties, including protein-enhanced milk aimed at fitness-conscious consumers. The milk industry is also trying to target busy families with new packaging sizes and styles. Dean Foods Inc., the largest U.S. dairy producer, last year introduced a low-sugar chocolate milk for kids called TruMoo, and it sells lactose-free milk in grocery stores.

Kroger CEO David Dillon said in a recent interview that consumers may no longer consider milk as healthful as they once did. Which is why the grocery chain, which runs its own dairies, plans to start selling a milk brand called CARBMaster next month that contains 20% more protein and lower sugar content than conventional milk.

The dairy industry is also retooling its marketing to tout the authenticity of cow’s milk and to deride fast-growing alternatives like soy and almond milk as “imitation milk.”

The GotMilk.com website, run by the California Milk Processor Board, currently features a series of interactive games that explore the “science of imitation milk,” a parody of soy, almond, rice and other nondairy milk products.

Early next year, the industry said it plans to expand use of the “Real” seal that some dairy producers affix to milk cartons and other dairy products in order to help distinguish dairy milk from plant-based products.