Got almond milk?
More and more consumers do. They’ve also got soy milk, coconut milk, flax milk and all sorts of trendy juices and bottled waters. But good old milk — the moo kind — keeps fading from grocery lists.
Milk’s rate of decline in 2011 and 2012 was the highest in more than a decade, though per capita consumption has been falling for years and dropped 25 percent from 1975 through 2012, according to federal data.
Milk drinking by both kids and adults has particularly declined during prime-time: meals. The tall, cool glass of milk with a sandwich at lunch or a burger at dinner is increasingly an anachronism.
“If I’m with another adult and they have milk during dinner, it seems kind of nostalgic,” said Amy Bryant, a St. Paul mother of two daughters, ages 8 and 5. “I was a milk lover and I grew up drinking it. You just kind of had milk with your dinner.”
Minnesota and Wisconsin have big stakes in milk, ranking No. 6 and No. 2 in the country in production. While producers have offset milk’s decline by selling more cheese, nearly tripling its consumption over the past four decades, the industry hasn’t been able to halt the slide in milk demand.
Recently, it even shelved its venerable “Got milk?” campaign, with the milk-mustached celebrities. New ads will emphasize milk’s protein content.
Katie Anderson, insight director at Minneapolis marketing firm Colle+McVoy, said the old campaign may have “lost its relevance.”
“Milk has just been sleepy,” Anderson said. “We have the juice people, the water people — everybody else is taking off.”
Alarmingly for the industry, even the most devoted milk drinkers — kids — aren’t consuming as much of the white stuff as they once did.
The share of preteens who didn’t drink any milk on a given day rose from 12 percent to 24 percent between 1978 and 2008, according to a 2013 report from the Department of Agriculture. During the same time, the share of preteens who drank milk three times or more a day dropped from 31 percent to 18 percent.
“It’s kind of the younger generation we’ve lost, ” said K.J. Burrington of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research.
While Bryant said her 5-year-old is “crazy for milk,” her older daughter barely drinks any. She might be lactose intolerant, a condition Americans have become increasingly aware of, and one that is a brake on milk sales.
At Mary Hanson-Busch’s house in New Prague, milk is featured less often at mealtimes, too. “Every night when we sit down for supper, I grab a big squeezy bottle of water,” said Hanson-Busch, a married mother of two teenage daughters.
She used to have milk at breakfast, either with cereal, a muffin or toast. But she overhauled her diet last fall. Cereal went largely by the wayside — too much sugar. And from a calorie perspective, Hanson-Busch decided she didn’t need as much milk.
One of her daughters ditched cows’ milk altogether recently, becoming a vegetarian and switching to coconut milk. “We go through about a gallon of milk a week for the family,” Hanson-Busch said. “We used to go through about two gallons.”
To a growing number of consumers, milk isn’t the nutritional touchstone it once was, even though it fulfills key nourishment needs.
“It’s really one of our best sources of vitamin D and calcium,” said Deb Sheats, a nutrition and dietetics professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Vitamin D and calcium are important nutrients that often get shorted in the American diet.
Cheese is also an excellent source of calcium. But cheese is often more fattening than milk, and doesn’t pack the same vitamin D punch.
Enter the “plant” milks — soy, almond and so on. They’re not really milk, but they are marketed that way. Through fortification, plant milks have just as much if not more calcium and vitamin D as dairy milk, and sometimes fewer calories — though they are more expensive.
“They are riding the coattails of milk’s nutritional profile,” said Marin Bozic, a professor of dairy marketing economics at the University of Minnesota. “They try to place themselves as a substitute for dairy milk.”
Plant milk is indeed a health play for packaged food makers. “Soy and almond milk manufacturers will benefit as more Americans become health conscious and are more willing to spend money on healthy beverages,” according to a recent report by market researcher IBISWorld.
Some consumers have been concerned about growth hormones used in dairy cows, IBISWorld found. Others have questioned the premise of drinking cows’ milk altogether, Antal Neville, an IBISWorld analyst, said in an e-mail interview.
“Some consumers have definitely questioned the health halo of milk in recent years,” he wrote.
The dairy industry is fighting back with a new marketing campaign launched last month. “Got milk?” has been replaced — except in California — by the slogan “Milk life.” New ads play up milk’s protein content. High protein has become a major health-oriented marketing strategy for food makers.
The ads’ message is that milk provides the energy to power a person’s day, said Colle+McVoy’s Anderson. “It’s a much more practical approach than “Got milk?”
Of course, marketing can only go so far. “There’s a lack of innovation in dairy,” said the U’s Bozic. The industry “needs to offer people more variety.”
Bozic said there could be a promising market for milk that undergoes “filtering” to boost nutrient concentrations and lower sugar levels. Fairlife, a Chicago-based company, is aiming to develop such a market, rolling out first in the Twin Cities.
The company is the brainchild of a husband-and-wife team who own a dairy farm in northwest Indiana. Fairlife makes filtered milk with 50 percent more protein and calcium and half the sugar of regular milk. Twin Cities’ supermarkets began carrying the product last month.
Sue McCloskey, one of Fairlife’s founders, said she sees her milk going up against not only other dairy products, but all sorts of beverages, from Odwallah-type juices to plant milks. “Our competition is all of the grab-and-go beverages.”
Bringing people back to the milk fold won’t be easy; tastes have been changing. Take the experience of Stacey Sundquist, a lawyer in Virginia, Minn. She and her husband have three kids under age 10 who drink milk regularly at meals.
Until a few years ago, Sundquist herself drank milk three times a day. Now, she drinks more water and has developed a taste for almond milk, including in her morning oatmeal. Sundquist made the switch after reading about antibiotics and hormones used in raising cows.
“I started questioning whether I needed cows’ milk in my diet,” she said. “I decided I really didn’t.”