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Originally published March 24, 2014 at 6:25 PM | Page modified March 25, 2014 at 6:03 PM

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Thirst for milk wanes as other drinks muscle in

Milk drinking has really 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.


(Minneapolis) Star Tribune

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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, Minn., 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.”

While producers have offset milk’s decline by selling more cheese, nearly tripling its consumption in 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 the protein content.

Katie Anderson, insight director at Minneapolis marketing firm Colle and 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 email interview.

The dairy industry is fighting back with a marketing campaign launched last month. “Got milk?” has been replaced — except in California — by the slogan “Milk life.”

New ads play up protein content.

Of course, marketing can only go so far.

“There’s a lack of innovation in dairy,” Bozic said. 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.



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