When was the last time you drank a glass of milk?
For plenty of Americans, the answer is: a long time ago.
Despite the popularity of “Got Milk?” ads that began running in the mid-1990s, followed in 2014 by “Milk Life,” the dairy beverage is on the decline.
Milk sales have fallen for years as many people are consuming less milk for a variety of reasons. Some are cutting back on animal products, or eliminating them from their diets altogether, turning instead to alternatives like almond milk, oat milk and soy milk. Others are still consuming dairy, but rather than drinking milk they’re eating foods such as cheese and yogurt.
“Milk has the blessing and the curse of sometimes being so familiar that people don’t stop, maybe, to relish it as much as they should,” says Yin Rani, who joined MilkPEP, the marketing organization for milk processors, as its CEO in September.
MilkPEP—the PEP is short for Processor Education Program—wants to remind people what they used to enjoy about milk, especially families with younger children. Earlier this year it began running ads with a “Love What’s Real” theme. And it is now featuring swimmer Katie Ledecky in new "built with chocolate milk" work. Chocolate milk is the official recovery beverage of the USA Swimming Team. It’s also the official beverage of Halloween.
Rani previously worked at agencies and at Campbell Soup Co., and sees some similarities in marketing milk and soup.
“I think they’re both mature categories that are looking for relevance and growth in a slightly difficult marketplace,” Rani says on the latest edition of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast.
Just how difficult is the marketplace for milk?
Rani spoke with Marketer’s Brief before Dean Foods, the country’s largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy protection as it looks to sell the business.
“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment, marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” Dean Foods President and CEO Eric Beringause said in a Nov. 12 statement.
The volume of milk sold in the U.S. has fallen for eight consecutive years, with a total decline of 13.3 percent from 2010 through 2018, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some types of milk are seeing increased purchases, such as whole milk and flavored whole milk. But that growth doesn’t cancel out declines in other categories such as skim milk, where sales plunged nearly 53 percent between 2010 and 2018.
Rani says she was a milk drinker before taking the role, putting plenty of it in her coffee, including lattes. Her lactose-intolerant teenage son drinks three glasses a day “and would drink more,” she says.
Rani is well aware of the non-dairy competitors that are booming and welcomes the friction in the industry.
“I think competition is good for brands and categories and companies, and I think the reality is—I do believe, the science says—that milk is a superior nutritional product,” she says.
In her mind, there’s a role for both dairy milk and non-dairy versions.
“We just need to claim back some of that nutritional heritage,” she says.
MilkPEP works with agencies including Campbell Ewald, Weber Shandwick and Arc Worldwide.