One can view the milk subset of the dairy industry in different ways. In terms of dollar sales, there is no question milk — the largest category in the dairy sector — had a fantastic year, according to data provided by Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI). 

In total U.S. multi-outlets and convenience stores for the 52-week period ending Nov. 27, 2022, total dairy milk sales approached $15.7 billion, an impressive gain of nearly 10% year over year (YoY). Under this subcategory, refrigerated white milk had an even stronger year, with sales increasing by 11% to $14 billion, while refrigerated milk saw a more muted 2% gain to $1.7 billion, IRI reported.

In the plant-based milk category, dollar sales grew 9% to $2.4 billion. In this category, refrigerated almond milk was No. 1 with $1.54 billion in sales, a 2% YoY increase. However, the biggest YoY stars in this category, according to IRI, were refrigerated oat milk, whose sales rocketed 37% to $512 million, while the refrigerated plant-based all other category enjoyed an 18% increase in dollar sales to $91 million. Conversely, refrigerated blends, albeit from a smaller base, had a tough year, with dollar sales dropping 80% to dollar sales of $561,000 for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 27.

The category defined as “all other milk” also did well in terms of dollar sales, which jumped 9% to $183 million. Leading the way here was kefir, rising 14% YoY to $116 million, and refrigerated milk substitutes, enjoying a healthy rise of 13% YoY to $37 million. Conversely, refrigerated milkshakes had a tougher year, according to IRI, with sales declining 9% to $29 million.

Despite primarily strong dollar sales results in the milk category, it is important to note that unit sales told a different story in some cases. For example, while overall dairy milk sales increased 10% YoY, its unit sales declined 3% to 4.59 billion. Similarly, plant-based dollar sales rose 9 percent, but its unit sales dropped 2% to 650 million, per IRI data.

The “big winners,” which can be defined as subcategories that excelled in both dollar sales and unit sales, can be narrowed down to four: Refrigerated oat milk, whose dollar sales rose 37% and unit sales increased 23% YoY; refrigerated plant-based all other, which enjoyed a dollar sales rise of 18% and unit sales increase of 7% YoY; refrigerated kefir, with dollar sales jumping 14% and unit sales rising 3 percent; and refrigerated milk substitutes, seeing dollar sales lift by 13% and unit sales by 3%, IRI research reveals.

Zeroing in on standout individual companies, fairlife had a particularly strong 52-week period ending Nov. 27 in refrigerated white milk. Its dollar sales increased by 23% to $530 million, while unit sales stormed higher by 10% to 125 million. In the refrigerated flavored milk category, Maola stood out for its impressive dollar sales increase of 54% to nearly $17 million, while its unit sales rose 39% to 5.5 million, according to IRI.

Switching gears to the plant-based milk category, among companies who attained at least $1 million in almond milk sales, Mooala, Malk and Three Trees all had excellent growth for the period ending Nov. 27. All three enjoyed both dollar sales and unit sales growth of at least 26 percent YoY. In fact, Malk’s almond milk sales increased by 80% to $3.4 million, while unit sales jumped 69% to 565,821, according to IRI data.

In the refrigerated oat milk subcategory, Planet Oat, Oatly, Chobani, Silk, Califia Farms, Simply, Lifeway and Malk attained strong YoY growth, all exhibiting outstanding advances in both dollar sales and unit sales gains of at least 19% YoY, per IRI.

Lastly, in refrigerated kefir, Lifeway and Forager Project stand out. Lifetway’s dollar sales rose a healthy 18% YoY to $101 million, while unit sales jumped 8 percent to 27 million. Forager Project achieved a robust 78% dollar sales increase to $2.2 million. Its unit sales rocketed higher by 68% to 362,873, IRI reports.