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Trends in Dairy Consumption

Source: Agriculture Fact Book 1998-USDA Office of Communications

In 1996, each American consumed an average 77 pounds more of commercially grown vegetables than in 1970, 63 pounds more grain products, 54 pounds more fruits, 32 pounds more poultry, 10 gallons more milk lower in fat than whole milk, 20.5 pounds less red meat, 73 fewer eggs, and 17 gallons less whole milk. In 1994 (the latest year for which nutrient data are available), total meat, poultry, and fish contributed nearly a third less saturated fat to the per capita food supply than in 1970, and beverage milk contributed 50 percent less saturated fat. Similarly, eggs' contribution to total dietary cholesterol declined by a fourth between 1970 and 1994, and beverage milk's contribution declined by a half.

The U.S. per capita food supply changed markedly between 1970 and 1996:

  • -35% less coffee consumed
  • -23% less eggs consumed
  • -22% less beverage milk consumed
  • -15% less red meat consumed
  • 17% more alcoholic beverages consumed
  • 21% more fats and oils consumed
  • 23% more fruits and vegetables consumed
  • 24% more caloric sweeteners consumed (includes caloric sweeteners used in soft drinks
  • 26% more fish consumed
  • 46% more flour and cereal products consumed
  • 90% more poultry consumed
  • 114% more carbonated soft drinks consumed
  • 143% more cheese consumed

Milkfat Consumption

In 1996, Americans drank an average of 22 percent less milk but ate nearly 2-1/2 times as much cheese (excluding cottage types) as in 1970. Annual per capita consumption of milkfat from fluid milk products (beverage milk and yogurt) has declined by half since 1970 due to lower beverage milk consumption and a trend toward lower fat milks. Americans cut their average consumption of fluid whole milk by two-thirds between 1970 and 1996, and nearly tripled their use of lower fat milks. But, because of the growing yen for cheese and fluid cream products, there was no overall reduction in the use of milkfat. Annual per capita consumption of fluid milk declined from 31 gallons in 1970 to 24 gallons in 1996.

The beverage milk trend is toward lower fat milk. While whole milk represented 81 percent of all beverage milk (plain, flavored, and buttermilk) in 1970, it share dropped to 36 percent in 1996. In 1996, plain whole milk accounted for 37 percent of all plain beverage milk, 2-percent reduced fat milk for 35 percent, and light (0.5-percent and 1-percent) and fat-free (skim) milks combined for 28 percent. In terms of average consumption, light and fat-free milks increased 25 percent in 1991-96, 2-percent milk declined 12 percent, and whole milk declined 15 percent.

Total beverage milk contributed 50 percent less fat to the average American's diet in 1996 than in 1970. In contrast, rising consumption of fluid cream products meant that they contributed nearly two times as much milkfat to the average diet in 1996 as in 1970. Per capita consumption of fluid cream products-half-and-half, light cream, heavy cream, eggnog, sour cream, and dips-jumped from 9.8 half pints in 1970 to 16.4 half pints in 1996. On balance, however, annual per capita consumption of milkfat from all fluid milk and cream products declined by 36 percent in 1970-96, from 9.1 pounds per person to 5.8 pounds.

Average consumption of cheese (excluding full-skim American and cottage, pot, and baker's cheeses) increased 140 percent between 1970 and 1996, from 11 pounds per person to 28 pounds. Lifestyles that emphasize convenience foods were probably major forces behind the higher consumption. In fact, two-thirds of our cheese now comes in commercially manufactured and prepared foods (including foodservice), such as pizza, tacos, nachos, salad bars, fast-food sandwiches, bagel spreads, sauces for baked potatoes and other vegetables, and packaged snack foods. Advertising and new products-such as reduced-fat cheeses and resealable bags of shredded cheeses, including cheese blends tailored for use in Italian and Mexican recipes-also had an effect.

From 1970 to 1996, consumption of Cheddar cheese increased 59 percent to 9.2 pounds per capita. Consumption of Italian cheeses quintupled during the same period, to 10.8 pounds per person in 1996. For example, per capita consumption of Mozzarella-the main pizza cheese- in 1996 was 8.5 pounds, more than 7 times higher than in 1970.