This issue marks six months since I joined Dairy Foods. In this time, there is clearly one piece of news I received that was more surprising — in a great way — than anything else.

Dairy product consumption is “white hot.” Americans consumed more dairy products than ever in 2021, according to data from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS).  

The average American consumed 667 pounds of dairy on a milkfat basis in 2021 versus 539 pounds in 1975 when data was first established. Among the products showing strong growth were American-type cheese, up 0.5 pounds, butter, up 0.2 pounds, and yogurt adding 0.7 pounds. Yogurt consumption grew at its strongest rate in a decade and American-type cheese consumption was the second biggest increase over the past 20 years.

“The growth and evolution of U.S. dairy is one of the greatest success stories in food and beverage today,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “Dairy begins with fresh, wholesome milk and then it becomes hundreds of delicious, nutritious products that fulfill America’s food and health culture. U.S. consumers turn to dairy for health and wellness, nutrition, escape, celebration, and so much more. That love for dairy is especially important now when so many shoppers are careful with their spending, underscoring that dairy remains affordable and nourishing to consumers at all income levels.”

In the past decade alone: domestic per capita consumption of cheese is up 13%; per capita butter consumption is up 18%; per capita yogurt consumption is up 2%. Overall, ERS data shows American dairy per capita consumption across products consistently increasing each year. It was up 4% in 2021 over the past five years, 9% over the past 15 years, and 19% over the past 30 years.

“Americans and consumers around the world are rediscovering the joys of their favorite dairy food while finding new, innovative products that meet specific nutritional and health needs,” Dykes said. “Today’s dairy is different because dairy is evolving. All of U.S. dairy should be proud of this growth.”

However, the way dairy is consumed has changed over the years. “Fluid milk has continued its slow decline, according to the USDA data,” states the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). “But cheese continues to rise — American-style cheese consumption reached another record last year. And butter — well, butter actually is returning to Eisenhower-era levels, so in that case, a ‘Back to the Future’ comparison may be appropriate.”

But even as the dairy product consumption mix shifts over time, the overall positive trajectory — the 2021 gain is the seventh in the past eight years — is “clear and impressive,” asserts NMPF.
 “Despite more and more competition from nondairy competitors ... despite an increasingly demanding consumer ... and despite disruptions that range from diet fads to pandemics ... consumers continue to find dairy increasingly useful, preferable, and important. That’s a tribute to the hard work of dairy farmers and the entire industry. And it’s worth celebrating.”

Yet, nobody in any industry can ever rest on its laurels following some great news. But it is a good moment to reflect upon and celebrate good times.

I wish everyone happy holidays and a Happy New Year.