Dairy milk’s $1.1 billion revenue decline highlights a shift in preferences. 

By Tim Nelson
March 27, 2019
Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

What is milk? For most of human history, it could only be described as a calcium-rich beverage that comes from a cow (or maybe a goat if that’s what you’re into). Lately, however, a proliferation of alternatives means that milk can be made out of soy, oats, and seemingly everything in between. 

Given that the very definition of “milk” is in flux, it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that Americans are drinking a whole lot less of traditional dairy milk than they used to. According to new data provided by the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), revenue from traditional milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion from 2017 to 2018. The report chalks that up in part to an 8.2 percent decrease in the average price of milk over that time period. 

Watch: Is Nut Milk Really Milk?

Given that price dip and an understanding of supply and demand, there’s no doubt that an increasing appetite for non-dairy alternatives has eroded cow milk’s market share in recent years. Oat milk seemingly had the opposite problem in 2018, with a supply that couldn’t keep pace with our insatiable demand for the trendy non-dairy drink. Data from Nielsen also suggests that the broader market for plant-based milk alternatives grew by 9 percent over a 52-week period ending in June 2018 to the tune of of $1.6 billion in sales, while dairy milk’s own sales shrank by 6 percent over the same time rame. 

It’s important to place those numbers in context however. While our taste for milk is certainly tilting away from cows and towards plants, dairy still dominates the landscape. That $1.1 billion decline shrank the U.S. dairy milk market from $14.7 billion to $13.6 billion, which still far outpaces the size of the plant-based market— at least for the time being. 

Still, things are pretty dire for dairy farmers. With an increasing number of people exploring plant-based diets for both nutritional and environmental reasons, it’s more likely that the downward trend in dairy milk revenue may just be the new status quo rather than a temporary aberration. At least the cows might be happier. 

 

 

 

 

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