Underpinned by Italian cheese variety sales climbing from 21.1 to 22 pounds per person during the past year, consumption of dairy products reached 646 pounds for every U.S. citizen. That number rose 16 pounds alone from 2015’s 630-pound level, reported USDA researchers Jerry Cessna and Jonathan Law. This 646-level represented the highest dairy product sales since the 1960s. It also marked 12 straight years that sales were over 600 pounds a person, a term dubbed “per capita consumption” by economists.

One may ask how a 1-pound uptick in cheese consumption can pace a 16-pound gain in dairy product sales? That’s because the 646-pound per capita figure is based on a milk equivalent, milkfat basis. Since it takes roughly 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese, that 21.1- to 22-pound movement in Italian cheese varieties contributed roughly 9 of the 16 pounds in new dairy product sales during the past year.

Far from a record
While the 646-pound dairy product sales figure is impressive, it’s far from a record. USDA began tracking this data in 1909 with an initial estimate of 770 pounds per person. The number climbed steadily and peaked when the U.S. started ramping up its World War II efforts in 1942. At that time, Americans consumed 833 pounds of dairy products. By 1953, dairy consumption slipped to 691 pounds and by the late 1960s, it slipped to the 500-pound level.

The downward spiral ended in 1981 at 541 pounds and has been climbing ever since. That is not a coincidence as the Dairy Checkoff began about that time and started reversing dismal consumption trends. The entire data set can be found here.

A few points to note
For those who really want to dig into the data, please know that calculations have changed over time. USDA’s Food Availability Division used a different population series in the early years. For example, USDA’s Animal Products and Cost of Production Branch previously assumed that the milk that stayed on the farm (but was not fed to animals) was consumed as fluid milk by families on farms. Nowadays, the Animal Products and Cost of Production Branch doesn’t account for this, but the Food Availability Division still does. The change was made because milk that stays on the farm is not necessarily consumed as fluid milk; it could be used to produce other dairy products. In recent years, this does not make much difference, but going back in time it did.

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September 18, 2017

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