Milk Sales Continue To Fall In US; Milk Alternatives Rise
“Got milk?” wrote Fast Company as it reported that “Dean Foods, the largest U.S. milk producer” had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2019. “You probably don’t. Or you do, and it’s just a splash in your coffee. Or you do, but it’s not from a cow.”
“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” said Eric Beringause, a newly installed CEO at Dean in 2019.
Dean “has found itself unable to compete as plant-based and lactose-free dairy alternatives rise in popularity,” agreed the New York Times.
Not only was Dean Foods a casualty of the many non-dairy milks now available, the milk producer “increased its ownership percentage in leading brand of flaxseed-based milk alternatives, Good Karma,” unabashedly joining the other side according to Food Table TV. The turnabout parallels the meat giants like Tyson, Smithfield, Purdue and Hormel who now sometimes offer plant-meat alternatives in their product lines — as in “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Nondairy milks available today include soy, rice, oat, coconut and almond milks as well as pea, hemp, flax, cashews, hazelnut, pistachio, walnut, peanut, macadamia, pecan, lupine, quinoa, garbanzo bean, sesame seed, tapioca starch and even potato milks. While some are refrigerated, many are in the dry goods section of the grocery store which further propels sales because of their greater shelf life.
Why the sea change in milk drinking behavior? The new milks might present less of dairy milk negatives like cholesterol, calories and the antibiotics and hormones often found in non-organic milks. Their taste and nutritional profiles might be considered superior.
And there are humane considerations too. Vegan-oriented food consumers cite among their reasons for abstaining from cow’s milk the dairy industry’s shocking treatment of cows and calves. For example, in 2009, news outlets reported “cull” cows in metabolic collapse, unable to walk or move, “waterboarded,” and pushed with forklifts to the killing floor, bound for the National School Lunch Program.
The dark side of dairy that few see—some refer to it as the “dark side of the moo”—forced government hearings back then, especially because government meat suppliers were involved.
“Why don’t you have a system that uncovers this inhumane treatment of animals?” former Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) asked the former new agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, who had assumed his post just days earlier. (His predecessor, Mike Johanns, assumed office just days before the first US mad cow was discovered.) Records revealed that Westland/Hallmark, the company responsible for the abuse, was not new to authorities but a repeat offender—cited by the USDA in 2005 for “too much electric prodding causing animals to get more excited while being driven towards [the kill] box.” Westland/Hallmark was also cited by humane groups as early as 1996 for prodding cows that couldn’t walk.
There are also many environmental concerns about dairies. In fact, manure and fly saturated dairy operations can exert such negative environmental effects, they have been called “rural crack houses.”
In summation, there are several reasons that non-dairy milks are becoming popular more popular than dairy milk.