Milk sales drop dramatically in B.C.
Theories about the fall of consumer milk purchases range from preference of cheeses to choosing vitamin-enriched drinks and milk substitutes. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION)
"They still tend to be significant dairy consumers, but very often the dairy they’re consuming is in a variety of products." — Trevor Hargreaves, B.C. Dairy Association, discussing young people’s preferences
Cross-border shopping and young people preferring to eat cheese and yogurt are being blamed by the industry for the decline of all categories of milk sales in British Columbia.
Statistics Canada data released on Tuesday showed the cartons that were once a near-certain sight in every home are clearly on the decline — a dramatic fall in the past five years.
Products sold in B.C. such as 1% milk, for example, drained to 4.46 million litres sold in March 2014 from averages of more than 7 million litres sold per month in 2009.
The number for 1% milk is a more severe example, but the pattern is present across the board, even affecting products such as chocolate milks and whipping cream.
The data showed standard milks declined in volumes to 3.96 million litres sold in one month this year, compared to 4.6 million litres sold in March 2009.
Similarly, 2% milk dropped about 1 million litres sold per month — skim milk sales fell closer to 1.4 million litres per month.
Trevor Hargreaves of the B.C. Dairy Association said the data is limited to milk and doesn’t cover other dairy products or the impact of cross-border shoppers taking advantage of cheaper milk in the U.S.
Meena Karsanji, a clinical dietician with Vancouver Coastal Health, said products such as soy, almond, coconut or rice milk may be to blame instead.
“They’re not dairy products, but a lot of them are fortified, they contain some of the added vitamins and minerals, (but) they might not have the same composition of good ol’ milk.”
She pointed to a potential impact of Asian immigration as well, saying an above-average number of Asians claim to be lactose intolerant, though many have not taken tests to confirm it.
Another suggestion is that the rise of soft drinks such as vitamin-enriched water or vegetable juices could have people considering healthy options other than milk.
“I don’t think we can get a true picture,” Karsanji said. “Is the shift people going towards soy milks … or is the shift people not drinking any milk at all?”
The B.C. Dairy Association said the industry is far from failing.
“Our volumes aren’t going down, they’re going up,” Hargreaves said — suggesting much of the milk has gone to producing cheese and yogurts to meet new generational demand.
“Canada is one of the largest cheese consumers in the world, in addition, yogurt is a growing market.”
Hargreaves said those born before the 1950s typically favour milk in its traditional form. But those in their 20s to 40s now aren’t necessarily chugging down litres of the stuff.
“They still tend to be significant dairy consumers, but very often the dairy they’re consuming is in a variety of products,” he said.