By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Based on recently released USDA data, the dairy industry’s trademarked “got milk?” could be answered these days with, “Yes, but not quite as much.”
Facing stiff competition from a growing variety of beverages, particularly vitamin water and energy drinks, the industry is seeing a continued decline in milk consumption. It was down another 3.3 percent last year, according to recently released statistics from the USDA.
On the bright side, consumption of other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are up slightly.
During the 1940s, per capita milk consumption was the highest in the United States. But since 1975, per capita consumption has nosedived about 30 percent, according to the USDA. In 1975, annual milk consumption totaled about 28.6 gallons for each person; last year that total stood at about 20.2 gallons.
Overall, industry representatives are “coming to recognize this as a crisis,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of the farmer-funded trade group Dairy Management, Inc. “We cannot simply assume that we will always have a market.”
An official with one of the largest dairy operations in Illinois, farmer-owned Prairie Farms, Inc., said they preferred not to comment about the issue at this time, said Director Bill Montgomery.
Part of the reason for the per capita decline is that children – long considered the largest group of milk consumers – make up a smaller portion of today’s society, Gallagher said.
But the overall decline in consumption is a sensitive issue to those in the dairy industry, and officials are working at ways to improve the numbers. The industry in Indiana, for instance, has been targeting parents and children with messages that chocolate and low-fat milk can be just as healthful for bodies after exercise and workouts as other energy-replenishing beverages, said Jenni Purcell, communications director for Milk Promotions of Indiana.
And on a national scale, dairy companies such as Arizona-based Shamrock Farms Co. have created smaller packages of milk products for easier consumption, especially at fast-food establishments such as Arby’s and Subway.
The largest dairy in the United States, Dean Foods, last year started selling a low-sugar chocolate milk for children called TruMoo, and it also started selling lactose-free milk in grocery stores.
Kroger, the nation’s second largest grocery chain in sales volume behind Walmart, Inc., plans to start selling a milk brand called CARBMaster when 2013 begins, a product that has 20 percent more protein and less sugar than whole milk, CEO David Dillon told the Wall Street Journal.
For previously heavy milk drinkers like Mark Winston, who walked out of the Carbondale, Ill., Kroger store last week with a half-gallon of milk, other beverages such as water, tea and coffee have become more of a mainstay for him and his wife, Karen.
“Our kids were always big milk drinkers, especially in the morning with cereal, but since they’ve grown and are out of the house, we might get through a half-gallon in a week,” Winston said. “For a while, when they were young, we’d go through two or three gallons in a week.”