Dairy industry combats decline in milk consumption

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Fewer people are choosing a glass of milk to accompany their dinner or to quench their thirst and that s challenging milk producers and marketers.

Milk consumption begins to decline as soon as kids go to school and are subjected to other beverage options and influences, attendees at a recent regional Alberta Milk producers meeting were told. The decline intensifies once they become teenagers.

Our focus in the Prairies has really been to target that nine to 17-year-old market, said Katherine Loughlin, market development manager with Alberta Milk.

We try to get them to drink more when they re home and get milk out of the parents fridge, and try to reinforce the habit before they move away.

Studies have found only 61 per cent of males and 83 per cent of females ages 10 to 16 are consuming the amount of dairy recommended by Canada s Food Guide, said Loughlin.

Most Canadians are really suboptimal in terms of their milk consumption, she said.

Perceptions about milk as a healthy beverage has changed over time. In 2007, about 73 per cent of people thought it was a good idea to consume milk every day, while in 2010, that figure had dropped to 67 per cent.

A lot of the work we do is to try and rebuild that commitment to milk in people s minds to make sure they continue to choose it, said Loughlin.

Milk consumption decreases as people age an ominous factor given Canada s aging Canadian population. Many people choose to consume milk because of nutritional concerns and studies have found people are concerned about obtaining the right amount of vitamins and protein.

Dairy is a great source of nutrients that many people seem to forget about, said Loughlin. About a third of people surveyed were looking to increase their source of protein, but they forget that dairy is a good source of protein.

Immigrants are also affecting overall consumption.

South Asian immigrants, who represent a large percentage of new Canadians, are major consumers, as their largely vegetarian diet uses milk products as their main source of protein. But this demographic one of the few growing consumer markets. However, Another Asian group, those of Chinese origin, rarely consume dairy products.

We need to work to convince these groups to consume more dairy products and think of ways to get them to incorporate dairy into their diets and into foods they are familiar with, Loughlin said.

Milk beverage alternatives, such as soy, rice, or almond milk, have taken a small percentage of the market away.

It is a growing concern that people may have these in the fridge as opposed to milk, said Loughlin.

The development of new sport recovery drinks and new food products also challenge markets that have been traditionally held by the dairy industry.

The forecast for retail sales for 2011 has dropped by one or two per cent in the Maritimes and Ontario and has only grown by 0.5 per cent to one per cent in the Prairies.

We still need to enhance where we re going in the market and continue to build consumption, said Loughlin.

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MostCanadiansare reallysuboptimalin termsoftheirmilk consumption.

KATHERINE LOUGHLIN

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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