It’s been kicked out of some school cafeterias, vilified as a junk-food beverage that’s contributing to childhood obesity. But chocolate milk is making a comeback with an unlikely new image: the perfect drink for Ironman and Olympic athletes after a grueling workout.
“It’s not the most intuitive thing to try chocolate milk,” says Miranda Abney, marketing director at the Milk Processor Education Program, or MilkPEP, the same group responsible for the “Got Milk?” campaign from the 1990s.
But as overall milk sales have dropped, the dairy industry has been positioning chocolate milk as a contender in the fast-growing market for protein bars and shakes. Their target is adults, who have traditionally dismissed milk — especially chocolate milk — as a kid’s drink.
That might seem crazy to people used to thinking of chocolate milk as the candy of beverages. But for elite athletes pushing their bodies especially hard, experts say, chocolate milk does provide a mix of carbohydrates and protein to help muscles recover.
“Love chocolate milk,” Brian Danza, president of the Washington running group DC Road Runners, wrote in an e-mail when asked where he stood.
The industry is counting on chocolate milk for growth because some unexpected factors have been driving down broader milk sales. There’s rising competition from other beverages, such as protein shakes and soy and almond milks. And there’s been a decadelong decline in the popularity of breakfast cereal; the industry estimates that nearly one-fifth of all milk is used on cereal.
In addition, the recession caused a drop in birthrates, leaving fewer children in their prime years for milk drinking.
Since 2012, MilkPEP has put $15 million a year into its new chocolate-milk campaign, enlisting the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey and women’s ski-jump teams to help promote it. One ad shows Wild and Olympic hockey star Zach Parise downing a bottle of chocolate milk while sitting in a locker room.