Milk is by far the largest of dairy's four categories, but perhaps its most troublesome. While overall sales may show some growth from year to year, per-capita sales continue to dog the industry. That number was down to 22.4 lbs in 2002 from 22.5 lbs in 2001.

More evidence that milk continues to lose ground can be found in the quarterly figures for overall milk sales (shown in top table), reported by Information Resources Inc.

Dollar sales were up and down during the five quarters reported here, and they may have been affected by fluctuating commodity milk prices. But the volume figures show that more than 7.1 billion pints were sold in first quarter '03, but in subsequent quarters volume stayed below 6.8 billion pints.

Comparing a recent 52-week period to its predecessor, milk sales were up slightly in the dollar column, but down a bit when measured by volume or by packaged unit.

A recent look at the top 10 vendors of lowfat and skim milk shows there were more losers than winners during the 52 weeks leading up to April 18, 2004. Overall, the lower fat products were down by more than 4% for the period. While flavored milk has been the silver lining for several years, the clouds are darkening for the sweet stuff too. Volume began dropping in the middle of last year, and continued into the spring.

Is there anything to smile about when it comes to milk sales? Sure. Per-capita consumption numbers for teens may give milk marketers hope. In 2001, teen per-capita consumption was up for the first time in six years. It climbed to 22 gals-nearly a 3% increase. In 2002 per-capita consumption among teens was up another 6.8%. Per-capita volume consumption from vending machines also experienced an uptick in 2003.

Lactose-free milk grew by a remarkable 17% in 2002 as lactose-reduced and acidophilus milk lost share of this specialty segment. Sales of low-carbohydrate milk products introduced late in 2003 should also be adding some incremental growth to the milk picture.

It should also be noted, that most other beverages categories also performed sluggishly in 2002 and 2003, with bottled water being the exception.