NewsNationalTwo Americas

Downward trend in milk drinking having a big effect on dairy farmers

Posted at 6:04 PM, Aug 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-24 18:50:20-04

ORTONVILLE, Mich. (WXYZ) — In tonight's Two Americas' report fewer Americans are quenching their thirst with a glass of milk these days.

In fact, fluid milk sales are down and have been in decline for years and the change has had a far-reaching impact.

Milk consumption is down 42% from what it was a half-century ago and it's put a squeeze on dairies across the country. Michigan dairy farmers are no exception.

Milk crates just don't sell the way they used to.

“It was a hundred percent fluid milk back in the day,” says Nick Selvaggio.

Perhaps no one knows that more than Point Dairy Services, a wholesaler established in 1968 that's watched the gallon lose its gain.

“Now it's gone to pints, and also to a quart like this,” says Selvaggio.

Almost every year since 1975, Americans have drunk less cow's milk than the year before. And it's taken a toll. According to the USDA, the number of Michigan licensed dairy farms from 2007 to 2017 dropped by 18% - driven by farm consolidation, in many cases, because smaller dairies were unable to keep up.

“If you don't have thousands of acres or thousands of cows, it's hard to compete with those bigger box store numbers,” says Quinton Cook.

That's why it's notable that a small operation like Cook's arm Dairy is still standing. Now the only dairy in all of Oakland County.

“What did you do differently than some of the dairies that once existed?” I asked Cook.

“In the 80s my dad added on the dairy, where we bottled the milk and made the ice cream fresh right here on the farm,” Cook answers.

Today, locals flock here to get some of the most sought-after ice cream in the area.

“It’s kept us going all these years,” Cook says.

And it's doing the same for the family-run dairy distributor.

“We sold more ice cream for the first time than we sold milk overall. Ice cream eclipsed milk sales,” Cook says.

They've had to expand the freezer over the years to keep up with demand, while also diversifying into other forms of dairy and even non-dairy.

“We're still selling a lot more regular milk but obviously plant-based is getting higher and higher,” says Selvaggio.

While the vast majority of Americans are leaving fluid milk for beverages like water, coffee & tea, data shows 7 percent have left for the plant-based alternative, in some cases because they believe it's healthier- which some Michigan farmers like Doug Chapin are pushing back on.

“A consumer will grab a plant beverage product thinking that they're giving the same nutrition to their household and they're really not,” Chapin says.

Today, the industry argues the FDA should prohibit plant-based beverages from marketing themselves as milk at the risk of misleading customers.

In the meantime, smaller dairies are trying to stay in business by staying focused on delivering a better quality product.

“There's the A2 protein that is helping people,” says Cook.

For Cook's Farm Dairy, it's about evolving its herd into cows that produce A2 milk, scientifically found to be easier for humans to digest, while also continuing to source the best ingredients.

“We try to do the highest quality that we can,” Cook says. “So that when the consumer does taste it - this is the top, highest quality you can get around here.”