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US cheese consumption breaks records, while dairy milk continues decline

Take a peek inside USDA’s latest data on dairy consumption, including the drivers behind cheese’s boom and why the dairy fluid milk decline isn’t as bad as it seems.

Rachel French

January 9, 2024

2 Min Read
cheese

At a Glance

  • Americans ate 653 pounds of dairy per person in 2022, up from 490 pounds in 1975.
  • Per capita cheese consumption reached nearly 42 pounds in 2022, nearly double the 1980 level.
  • While milk usage in cheese and other high-value products is increasing, individual milk intake dropped to a new low in 2022.

Consumption of all dairy products reached 653 pounds per person in 2022, according to newly released data from USDA. While cheese consumption hit record levels in 2022, dairy fluid milk intake continued its yearslong dip.

Consumers ate 63 pounds more dairy on average in 2022 than they did in 1975, when USDA began tracking U.S. per capita dairy consumption.

Overall, USDA data show American dairy consumption across categories has consistently increased each year. Of USDA’s data, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) reported dairy intake across product categories in 2022 is up 0.4% over the past five years, 7.5% over the past 15 years and 16.1% over the past 30 years.

Matt Herrick, SVP of public affairs and communications at IDFA, called the dairy category’s strong, consistent performance “resilient.”

“We saw foodservice go away during Covid-19 and dairy remained strong,” he said. “We saw supply chain issues impact exports and dairy remained strong. We saw wholesale and consumer price inflation knock most products down a peg or two, but dairy has remained strong. The data from USDA demonstrate how consumers continue to choose dairy products even as they exercise cost-conscious shopping, illustrating how dairy remains affordable and accessible to all people.”

Key among USDA’s findings is record-breaking cheese consumption. In 2022, cheese intake reached nearly 42 pounds per person, marking a half-pound increase per person compared to 2021. Since 1980, per capita cheese consumption has nearly doubled. The average cheese consumption per person in 1980 was 21.9 pounds, per USDA data.

According to Herrick, cheese’s popularity is one reason for its growth in 2022. The success of the U.S. pizza industry and growth of order and delivery services, however, could also be driving the uptick in cheese consumption, he said. He pointed to popular quick-service restaurant (QSR) meals like pizza, mozzarella sticks, chips and queso, cheeseburgers, and cheese-filled tacos and burritos as drivers of cheese intake propelled by growth of order and delivery services.

On the flipside of cheese’s burgeoning success story is dairy fluid milk’s yearslong decline. Fluid milk consumption has steadily decreased over the past two decades, reaching a new low in 2022, the USDA data show.

The decline of per capita dairy milk intake, however, isn’t what it seems, Herrick advised.

While individual dairy milk consumption has declined, dairy milk is used to produce other popular dairy products like cheese, yogurt and ice cream, he explained. Increased demand for high-value and commodity dairy products like cheese and milk powders in other countries has further increased dairy milk demand.

“The combined growth in dairy consumption in the U.S. and abroad along with growing export sales have translated into growing milk production in the U.S. to respond to growing demand,” Herrick said.

He also pointed to the critical role of innovation in the dairy milk category. For example, ultra-filtered milk is “bucking the trend” by delivering double-digit volume growth to consumers. Ultra-filtered milk also meets consumer demands for increased protein, lower sugar and fat, and lactose-free.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing editor

Rachel French 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. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI. Connect on LinkedIn.

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