Milk GlassThe publication of the USDA’s “Why Are Americans Consuming Less Fluid Milk?   A Look at Generational Differences in Intake Frequency” this May has lead to frank discussion in the dairy industry. Citing a ‘“slow continuous shift downward’ in milk drinking since the 1940s,” the report analyzes the causes and potential effects of this downward trend. The trend has been especially felt significantly in the last several decades: “Since 1970 alone, per capita fluid milk consumption has fallen from 0.96 cup-equivalents to about 0.61 cup-equivalents per day”.

So, what is going on here?  The authors point to several issues that have energized this trend including the following: frequency of consumption, a diversified marketplace, and generational differences. In regards to frequency, Americans “have become less apt to drink fluid milk at mealtimes, especially with midday and nighttime meals, reducing the total number of consumption occasions.” Part of the reason the frequency has decreased is due to an expanding array of beverage options that are out there for the average consumer.

Milk has been displaced by the consumption of energy drinks, sodas, juices, tea, coffee, etc. The current market offers a wide selection of beverages, choices, and purported claims. For younger consumers this variety and choice is something they have always known, unlike older consumers who remember fewer choices and a lack of access to Taurine-infused energy drinks, iced teas, iced coffee drinks, chocolate soy milk, etc.

It is this generational difference that the authors focus on in some significant detail as a target of attention and possible future marketing. For each generation there exists a sense of context, place, and identity. The generational cohorts are products of their time, culture, market, etc. As generations may view fashion, politics, etc, they may also view food and beverage choices.  Fluid milk has been prone to shifting perceptions/behaviors that affect consumption:

“• Americans born in the early 1960s consume fluid milk on 1.1 fewer occasions per day than those born before 1930.
• Americans born in the early 1980s consume fluid milk on 0.3 fewer occasions per day than those born in the early 1960s."

As this trend has continued through the present day, researchers have become aware that, "these differences will likely make it difficult to reverse current consumption trends. In fact, as newer generations replace older ones, the population’s average level of fluid milk consumption may continue to decline." Methods like targeting youth potential means to shape a new generation’s view on fluid milk consumption.

Concerned? Have some ideas on how to take this problem on?  Want to know more about the report, including both major concerns leveled and potential silver linings? Check out the report for yourself right here.