Supply chain shortages have been affecting dairy producers and consumers alike for the past few years, but the most recent product in short supply directly affects the dairy industry and the people who depend on the nutrients milk provides. Inventories of half pint milk cartons are running low, and this greatly impacts schools as well as places such as nursing homes and prisons.
The shortage has been making headlines in newspapers in states across the country, including New York, Pennsylvania, and California. Unable to purchase 8-ounce milk cartons, schools have been left to find beverage alternatives. Of course, milk could be purchased in larger containers and poured into cups, but that is not practical in some school settings. For some schools, this means water or juice is being served with meals.
Normally, schools are required to offer milk with meals. However, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service released a memorandum in response to the shortage permitting state agencies to allow child nutrition program operators to serve meals with an alternative form of milk or without fluid milk.
The scarcity of packaging reportedly traces back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when schools across the country switched to virtual learning and the demand for cartons of milk tanked. Some carton manufacturers went out of business, and today, only a few remain that make the smaller packages.
Dairy groups are emphasizing that this is a packaging shortage – not a milk shortage. Still, the ability to provide milk in the volume and container that works best for school meal programs will be critical to ensure children are receiving the essential nutrients milk provides. Patrick Penfield, a professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University, said in an interview with WRVO News in New York that the problem could persist until early next year.