One of the most interesting things I have observed during this pandemic is how so many consumers returned to the basics. Their decision was not always a personal choice or desire, but perhaps out of necessity.
Take bread, for example. Not only were shelves cleared out during the panic buying that ensued when states issued stay-at-home orders, but flour and yeast disappeared as well. For some, they had to make bread if they wanted any. For others, it was a chance to try something new . . . yes, I am referring to baking in general. For others, it was a return to doing something they enjoyed because they had more time to spend in the kitchen.
Baking bread wasn’t the only baking going on. Butter experienced explosive growth, particularly unsalted butter, which for some grocery retail chains resulted in purchase increases of 300% in this last quarter due to the pandemic.
A similar situation happened with fluid milk
As we know, fluid milk was quickly taken from its refrigerated shelves and hurried home to households during this same panic-buying period. What is interesting to note, however, is that so many consumers quickly purchased real milk compared to its plant-based imitator counterparts during this time of need.
Both dairy and plant-based beverages saw a dramatic increase in retail purchases this past March due to the panic-buying that ensued. Yes, plant-based beverages saw an increase of 7.9 million more gallons purchased between March 9 to 22, 2020, than the same time last year. What is truly more incredible is that the demand for real fluid milk exploded by more than 45 million gallons — on top of fluid milk that is regularly purchased.
On a typical day, milk outsells plant-based beverages by a margin more than 10 to 1. So, it makes sense dairy continued to outsell its plant-based counterparts during the panic buying.
This enhanced demand during this peak retail sales period for 2020 is important for two reasons.
First, clearly there is a significant and strong demand for fluid milk. There is no question about that. Regardless of the consumption growth in the plant-based beverages category, it still walks in the shadow of real dairy milk because of its inferior nutritional qualities and taste profile compared to real milk. It’s easy to consider milk the gold standard, of sorts.
While the increased demand for fluid milk and other dairy products is great news, there is certainly room for growth, and it begins in the kitchen. So many consumers rediscovered the magic of cooking at home during the pandemic, and now, many of these individuals are tired of being in the kitchen. It has become burdensome and unexciting. However, some things have not changed — people need to eat, people need healthy, tasty, and wholesome food — and the pandemic is simply not over. This is a grand opportunity for dairy to remain engaged with consumers to continue establishing these purchasing habits, by sharing new recipes, new ways to mix up a traditional dish, and new ways to enjoy dairy.
Secondly, it lifted the confidence level and proved to dairy farmers across the U.S. that the food they produce every day is still a top-ticket item for those visiting the grocery store. Just like an empty dessert platter is a compliment to a baker, so is an empty dairy case to a dairy farmer.
Dairy farmers paid attention to the empty shelves back in March. One of our cooperative members candidly shared with me at the time . . . “The milk price is starting to look abysmal but seeing everyone flock to the grocery store and stock up on milk . . . that does make a dairy farmer feel good about what they do.”
And they should. Dairy farmers should take pride in the wholesome product they provide to so many, especially a product packed with such valuable nutrition as vitamin A and D and calcium.
It is the gold standard of nutritional beverages, after all.