It was a mixed bag product-by-product, but total dairy sales were strong during 2004.

It was a mixed bag product-by-product, but total dairy sales were strong during 2004.

Total milk and dairy product usage nearly matched year-earlier levels despite record-high prices during 2004, according to preliminary per-capita consumption data recently released by USDA. On a milk equivalent, milkfat basis, per-capita consumption of all dairy products totaled 592 pounds during 2004, according to USDA. That's down just two pounds versus 2003 when consumption hit a 15-year high.

In fact, sales of several dairy products did decline under the weight of sharply higher milk prices. Cheese, butter and yogurt usage, however, helped hold up total per-capita consumption.

After very modest gains for the past several years, per-capita cheese use jumped up eight-tenths of a pound to total 31.2 pounds during 2004. American-type cheeses enjoyed four-tenths of a pound of growth and all other varieties another four-tenths.

USDA doesn't publish more detailed data for numerous varieties until later in the year, but other data suggest that Hispanic cheese varieties were big contributors to the growth.

Butter usage climbed one-tenth of a pound higher for the second year in a row. At 4.6 pounds per capita, butter sales were the highest they have been in five years.

Fluid (primarily beverage) milk and cream usage, which includes yogurt, totaled 207 pounds per capita; just one pound less than a year earlier. Other data indicate that retail sales of beverage milk plunged last year as prices marched sharply higher during the first half.

Other data tell us, however, that yogurt had a very good year as manufacturers scrambled to meet the low-carbohydrate-diet phenomena head on and the carb-fad faded.

Meanwhile, the meter measuring cottage cheese usage appears to be stuck. It has hovered between 2.6 and 2.7 pounds per capita for the past 10 years. One of the original "diet" foods, cottage cheese usage stood at nearly 5 pounds per capita back in the mid 1970s.

A shortage of hot summer days and the low-carb craze teamed up to push ice cream sales lower during 2004. In fact, regular ice cream usage fell a full pound to 15.4 pounds. Per-capita sales of all frozen desserts-regular and reduced fat ice cream, sherbet, etc.-totaled 26.4 pounds; down from 27.1 pounds during 2003 and down from 29 pounds as recently as 1998.

FYI: Nonfat dry milk "per capita usage" increased nearly a pound to 4.3 pounds during 2004. No, you didn't miss out on some new U.S. fad. It's just a quirk in the data. U.S. manufacturers exported a record-shattering 260,000 metric tons of skim milk powder last year and the USDA database simply divides total disappearance by the US population.

As US exports grow, the database may require an overhaul, but for the moment all is fine. The total pounds of per-capita dairy usage are calculated on a fat basis, so skim milk powder isn't much of a factor.

While the sales of some dairy products struggled last year, others did quite well and the bottom line read strong volumetric sales in the face of very high prices.