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Dairy consumption hits record level in U.S.

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The average American ate about 12 pounds more dairy in 2021 compared to 2020, marking a record-level high for the category.

Americans are eating more dairy than ever before, according to new data from USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). In 2020, Americans ate about 655 pounds of dairy. In 2021, that figure jumped to 667 pounds of United States per capita dairy consumption.

The latest figures, released in September, continue the upward trajectory dairy has enjoyed since 1975 when USDA began tracking annual consumption of milk, cheese, butter and other dairy products. In 1975, U.S. per capita dairy consumption was 539 pounds.

Dairy gains in 2021 can be attributed to strong growth of certain dairy products, including American cheese, butter and yogurt. U.S. per capita consumption of American cheese jumped 0.5 pounds, while butter and yogurt increased 0.2 pounds and 0.7 pounds, respectively.

The data is promising for yogurt, which saw its highest growth rate in a decade in 2021, despite relatively slow growth of 2% over the last 10 years.

Similarly, American cheese saw its second-highest growth spike in 20 years. U.S. per capita consumption of American cheese increased 13% over the last decade. Butter saw the slowest growth of the top three contenders in 2021, with 18% growth of U.S. per capita consumption in the last 10 years.

Dairy milk took the biggest hit in 2021, dropping about 7 pounds in per capita consumption. Dairy milk is facing growing competition from plant-based milk alternatives, which have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. In fact, data shows plant-based milk now accounts for 16% of the milk category’s dollar sales and 20% of the category’s dollar growth in the last three years.

Despite the drop in dairy milk intake, the dairy category enjoys steady growth, per USDA data. U.S. per capita dairy intake has increased 19% over the past 30 years, 9% over the past 15 years and 4% over the past five years.

The versatility of dairy is one factor driving its growing popularity, according to Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, in a press release.

“U.S. consumers turn to dairy for health and wellness, nutrition, escape, celebration and so much more,” he said. “That love for dairy is especially important now when so many shoppers are careful with their spending, underscoring that dairy remains affordable and nourishing to consumers at all income levels.”

Product innovation is also helping to keep the category strong, Dykes explained.

“Americans and consumers around the world are rediscovering the joys of their favorite dairy food while finding new, innovative products that meet specific nutritional and health needs,” he said. “Today’s dairy is different because dairy is evolving. All of U.S. dairy should be proud of this growth.”

In the dairy category, clean labels and health are among top dairy demands from consumers. For this reason, dairy manufacturers are working on product recipes that shorten ingredient lists, such as removing or replacing artificial ingredients with more natural ones, per Food & Beverage Insider’s new “Dairy’s big splash” digital magazine, among other product innovations.

Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products INSIDER, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019.

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