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While U.S. milk industry in "crisis," Canada calls it even-steven


Liquid milk consumption in the U.S. and Canada continues to decline, prompting an industry leader south of the border to call the situation a “crisis.”

But here in Canada, people have adopted a less fatalistic attitude, citing stable overall consumption levels.

Beginning with the U.S.

The average American consumer is drinking less and less milk every year.

After peaking in around the Second World War, per-capita consumption has tumbled almost 30 per cent, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

In 2011, liquid milk consumption fell 3.3 per cent over the previous year, “the biggest year-over-year slide since at least 1975,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

That has Tom Gallagher, CEO of the U.S.'s Dairy Management Inc. calling the situation a "crisis," adding "we cannot simply assume that we will always have a market."

The sources of this increasingly rapid decline include the growing popularity of bottled water, changing demographics, a concern that milk is high in calories, and increases in retail prices.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada are also seeing a gradual decline in liquid milk consumption.

Back in 1992, Canadians drank an average 92.6 litres of milk according to data from Statistics Canada. By 2011, that number had dropped to 78.7 litres. (Cream, on the other hand, jumped from 5.1 litres per capita to 8.8 over that same period).

But it’s no skin off the industry’s milk… ahem… back.

Thérèse Beaulieu, assistant director of strategic communications points out that while liquid milk consumption is declining, other dairy categories are seeing tremendous growth.

Back in the 1970s, she says mozzarella and cheddar were the only cheeses available in the grocery store. “Now we’re talking about 1000 different cheeses.”

Indeed, between 1992 and 2011, Canada's per capita consumption of cheese jumped from 10.45 kilograms to 12.29, with the biggest gains made in specialty cheese.

Yogurt has also taken off, giving dairy farmers, processors and grocers robust dairy sales.

Thanks to the growth in these non-liquid dairy categories, consumption levels have remained relatively stable.

“It’s not a question of crisis,” Beaulieu adds. “It’s a question of changing demographics. We have an older population; we have a population that’s more diversified.”

But in order to boost liquid milk sales, milk companies on both sides of the 49th parallel are working on innovating the category.

Kroger’s CEO, David Dillon, recently said consumers may no consider milk as a healthy a product. So the leading U.S. grocer plans to sell CARBMaster, a milk brand with “20 per cent more protein and lower sugar content than conventional milk,” writes WSJ.

Other companies are promoting their products as ideal post-workout beverages, like Shamrock Farms. The milk producer recently launched a “muscle builder” variety of its high-protein milk.

Still others have completely redesigned packages – making them smaller and better suited for smaller households.

Here in Canada, Beaulieu cited shelf-stable milk as an example of innovation. “ is pasteurized at ultra-high temperatures so you don’t have to refrigerate it and can take it on the go.”

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