Up until only recently, milk sales in U.S. retail outlets had been on a decades-long decline. As the coronavirus forced many consumers to work, study and/or eat at home, however, retail milk sales benefited.

According to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI, dollar sales for the total refrigerated milk category jumped 8.7% to $16,696.6 million during the 52 weeks ending Nov. 29, 2020. Unit sales rose 2.0% to 5,634.4 million.


Whole milk takes the lead

The refrigerated whole milk subcategory posted the strongest growth. Dollar sales were up 10.9% to $5,443.2 million. Unit sales were up 4.1% to 1,779.9 million.

Among the top 10 brands, the strongest performer was Fairlife. The brand saw 26.4% and 26.8% increases in dollar and unit sales, respectively.

Only one brand, Dean Foods, posted declines. Dollar sales fell 15.0%, and unit sales tumbled 20.6%. It is worth noting that nine of the top 10 brands realized double-digit dollar sales increases (see the table).


Mixed results for other subcategories

Meanwhile, it was a good news, bad news situation for the larger refrigerated skim/low-fat milk subcategory. Dollar sales climbed 6.1% to $7,429.7 million. But unit sales took a 1.1% dive to 2,525.2 million.

Fairlife and Dean Foods were the winner and loser, respectively, among the top 10 in this subcategory as well. Fairlife saw 23.0% and 22.3% dollar and unit sales increases. And Dean Foods posted 15.3% and 21.4% dollar and unit sales declines. All other top 10 brands posted positive dollar sales results.

The much-smaller refrigerated flavored milk/eggnog/buttermilk subcategory found itself in a similar situation. Dollar sales rose 3.4% to $1,588.2 million, but unit sales fell 3.0% to 649.1 million.

Once again, Fairlife was the overachiever among the top 10 brands. It posted 10.7% and 7.8% dollar and unit sales gains. But the Borden brand was close behind, realizing 9.1% and 4.9% dollar and unit sales increases.

Only two brands — Dean Foods and Darigold — posted declines for both dollar and unit sales.