When we last reported on sales within the U.S. refrigerated retail milk category back in our February issue, the situation was quite rosy. Dollar sales had risen significantly during the 52-week reporting period, and unit sales growth was solid, too. Of course, that growth surge reflected a time during which COVID-19 restrictions forced many people to work and learn — as well as eat and drink — from home.

As folks started to trickle back to offices and schools, refrigerated milk’s growth at retail saw a slowdown. Data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI show that the overall refrigerated milk category (which includes both milk and milk alternatives) posted only a 1.8% increase in dollar sales (reaching $16,583.2 million) during the 52 weeks ending July 11, 2021. Unit sales actually fell 2.1% to 5,501.7 million.

Flavored milk shines

The refrigerated flavored milk/eggnog/buttermilk subcategory outperformed the total refrigerated milk category, with dollar sales rising 4.9% to $1,640.2 million and unit sales inching up 0.2% to reach 656.7 million.

Three of the top 10 brands posted double-digit growth in both dollar and unit sales. LALA (“other” LALA branded products) saw dollar and unit sales gains of 20.1% and 14.0%, respectively. And Prairie Farms recorded a 19.7% rise in unit sales and a 12.0% increase in dollar sales. Fairlife, meanwhile, enjoyed 17.4% and 16.3% dollar and unit sales increases.

Turning in the worst performance among the top 10 brands was Dean Foods (all brands). Dollar and unit sales tumbled 21.4% and 24.4%, respectively.

Skim, low-fat milk sales take a nosedive

The news was not as good in the largest refrigerated milk subcategory — skim milk/low-fat milk. Dollar sales within the segment fell 1.7% to $7,208.9 million, while unit sales tumbled 5.8% to 2,403.0 million.

Despite the subcategory’s subpar performance, several top 10 brands managed to record impressive growth. Leading the way here was Fairlife, which saw dollar and unit sales gains of 25.4% and 25.3%. Prairie Farms and Hood Lactaid also impressed, with the former recording 11.3% and 2.3% dollar and unit sales gains, respectively, and the latter turning in 9.4% and 8.5% increases.

Once again, Dean Foods brands (collectively) lagged among the top 10, with dollar sales falling 46.0% and unit sales declining by 46.8%.

Mixed results for whole milk

Dollar sales rose 2.4% in the refrigerated whole milk subcategory to reach $5,416.4 million. But unit sales fell 1.8% to 1,737.5 million.

However, all but one of the top 10 brands — Dean Foods’ collective brands — actually realized dollar sales gains. And only two brands in addition to Dean Foods’ collective brands saw a unit sales decline (Hiland, -4.7%; Borden, -2.3%).

Fairlife was the top performer in this segment, posting dollar and unit sales gains of 26.0% and 26.4%, respectively. But Prairie Farms was close behind; its dollar sales jumped 21.6%, and its unit sales rose 12.6%.

‘All other’ milk substitutes take off

On the milk alternative side, meanwhile, the “all other” refrigerated milk substitutes subcategory (taking in products featuring oat and other bases not falling into the three main subcategories) was the growth standout. Dollar sales skyrocketed 65.3% to $420.2 million. Unit sales shot up 67.6% to 109.1 million.

Sales growth within the largest refrigerated milk alternative subcategory, refrigerated almond “milk,” was more conservative. But the segment still managed to impress. Dollar sales climbed 4.5% to $1,527.3 million, while unit sales jumped 4.9% to 477.5 million.

The two smallest refrigerated milk alternative subcategories lost ground, however. The refrigerated soy “milk” segment saw dollar sales drop 7.4% to $161.7 million and unit sales fall 7.0% to 51.9 million. And the refrigerated coconut “milk” segment posted a 3.2% dollar sales decrease (to reach $74.8 million) and a 1.6% unit sales decline (to reach 22.6 million).

Sales of 'all other' refrigerated milk substitutes skyrocket

Refrigerated milk category* Dollar sales (millions) % change vs. year ago Unit sales (millions) % change vs. year ago
Refrigerated skim/low-fat milk $7,208.9 -1.7 2,403.0 -5.8
Refrigerated whole milk $5,416.4 2.4 1,737.5 -1.8
Refrigerated flavored milk/eggnog/buttermilk $1,640.2 4.9 656.7 0.2
Refrigerated almond "milk" $1,527.3 4.5 477.5 4.9
Refrigerated milk substitutes - "all other" $420.2 65.3 109.1 67.6
Refrigerated soy "milk" $161.7 -7.4 51.9 -7.0
Refrigerated kefir $100.1 3.7 29.6 3.2
Refrigerated coconut "milk" $74.8 -3.2 22.6 -1.6
Refrigerated milkshakes/nondairy drinks $33.6 -24.1 13.8 -22.0
Total refrigerated milk category $16,583.2 1.8 5,501.7 -2.1

Source: IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm (@iriworldwide), 52 weeks ending July 11, 2021. Total U.S. multi-outlet with c-store (supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, gas/c-stores, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains). Note: Sales rankings shown are for individual brand line listings, not total brand listings. *IRI includes refrigerated dairy alternatives in the refrigerated milk category.