Whole Milk Ready for Breakthrough Year

With consumer choice, scientific research and congressional legislation all going its way, 2024 promises to be a breakthrough year for whole milk, NMPF’s Head of Nutrition Policy Claudia Larson and Regulatory Affairs Director Miquela Hanselman said in a Dairy Defined Podcast released today.

The variety that shoppers prefer is poised to return to school lunch menus given the bipartisan approval of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act in the House of Representatives, and it will figure prominently in consideration for updated federal Dietary Guidelines that are due next year.

“This is important to our students, this is important to our schools, this is important to our parents,” said Larson, a senior director of government relations at NMPF. “Reach out to your senators, let them know that this is important to you and your children in your community and ask them to please co-sponsor the bill.”

NMPF has a call to action urging lawmakers to support the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act here. The full podcast is here. You can also find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts. Broadcast outlets may use the MP3 file below. Please attribute information to NMPF.

Whole and Lactose-Free Milk Shine Bright

By Alan Bjerga, Executive Vice President, Communications & Industry Relations, NMPF

This is shaping up to be an exciting year for both whole and lactose-free milk, two growing segments of fluid milk consumption that are poised for further gains in grocery aisles as well as Washington, D.C. policy circles.

First, the facts: Even as fluid milk continues its decades-long challenge of eroded consumption as beverage markets diversify and consumer preference shifts to other forms of dairy, both whole milk and lactose-free varieties are bucking that trend. According to data from Circana Inc., which tracks retail sales, whole milk sales rose slightly (up 8 million gallons, or 0.6%) in 2023 over 2022. Because overall fluid sales declined, whole milk now makes up 45.4% of total fluid volume sold and is easily the most popular variety.

Lactose-free milk, meanwhile, reached a milestone. By climbing 6.7% to 239.2 million gallons last year, it surpassed the sales volume of almond beverages, by far the most popular plant-based milk alternative beverage. Almond’s annual decline of 9.8% is a big part of an overall consumer move away from plant-based alternatives, which have now seen two straight years of sales volume drops. Buyers are emphatically rejecting years of misleading claims that these beverages are a worthy substitute to dairy.

What’s next?

The National Milk Producers Federation is pushing for full congressional passage of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House in December and stands good prospects of passage in the Senate — if the right legislative vehicle can be found in a jam-packed election year. Bringing whole and 2% milk back to school meal menus is a great way to improve the nutrition of the next generation of milk drinkers. We have a call to action on our website urging senators to take up the bill.

Lactose-free milk is becoming the industry’s spearhead in ensuring equitable access to milk across diverse populations in federal nutrition programs. It is simply asinine federal policy to do what some vegan activists are proposing — increase access in federal programs to plant-based beverages that are both nutritionally inferior and now falling out of favor with consumers — when a beverage exists that circumvents lactose intolerance and offers all of milk’s benefits because it is, after all, milk. You will be hearing more about this in upcoming months as we strive to make 2024 a year when people become more broadly aware of just how critical lactose-free milk can be for effective and fair nutritional choices.

In what’s been a challenging time for the industry, what can the success of whole and lactose-free milk tell us? It shows that, for all the proliferation of alternatives, consumers like milk that’s most like milk, in taste and composition. They also like milk that’s accessible for everyone who wants its benefits. Quality and diversity are promising building blocks for a prosperous future. That’s plentiful in dairy, and this year, what consumers are choosing also can inform better federal policy.

This column originally appeared in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel on Jan. 18, 2024.

Milk’s Lead Rises as Plant-Based Beverages Sink

The final numbers are in, and they confirm what we’ve anticipated all year. In 2023, consumers emphatically turned away from plant-based beverages at an accelerating rate that caused the category to lose market share to milk, where whole milk and lactose-free varieties are thriving and surpassing their competitors.

The numbers give even more reason to put a stake in all that overprocessed hype – and to push even harder for integrity in labeling beverages that are being abandoned by consumers tired of inferior alternatives to dairy.

With full year data now available from Circana Inc., which tracks grocery-store spending, plant-based beverage consumption in 2023 fell 6.6 percent to 337.7 million gallons. It’s the second straight year of declines and the lowest consumption since 2019.

Sales volumes for almond drinks, the biggest plant-based category, fell 10 percent, and the soy beverages that vegan activists weirdly want in school lunches declined 8 percent. Even the once-Next-Big-Thing, oats, only rose 1.4 percent last year.

Sorry, Oatly – the froth has left your latte, and all that’s left is the drain.

Meanwhile, fluid milk – the real kind – keeps chugging away. To be fair, like plant-based, its consumption also declined, and like plant-based, its sales volume number starts with a 3. However, that 3.137 is followed by the word billion – not million, which is where plant-based is stuck – and the drop was 2.7 percent, less than half the rate of decline for plant-based beverages. That means fluid milk last year lengthened its lead over plant-based. In 2022, fluid milk had 89.9 percent of the pie. In 2023, it rose to 90.3 percent.

Beyond the overall number, fluid milk had more good news. Sales of whole milk, the most popular variety (and the one we need back in schools), rose last year, and lactose-free milk – the one tailor-made for people with dairy sensitivities – jumped 6.7 percent to 239.2 million gallons. With that, lactose-free milk surpassed almonds; it’s now a bigger category on its own than any plant-based alternative.

(You’ll hear a lot about that in the next year. We’ll make certain of it.)

The idea that milk was losing market share because consumers were turning to plant-based alternatives was always off-base. Now, it’s just a lie. And the decline of plant-based beverage isn’t likely to be an aberration: Once the initial hype is gone, and the sustainability claims are debunked, and the nutrition fallacies are exposed, what, exactly, does over-processed sugar water have going for it?

Oh, right, their misleading labels.

For now.

House Overwhelmingly Backs Whole Milk in Schools

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act on Dec. 13 with a commanding 330-99 margin, demonstrating compelling bipartisan support for expanding dairy in school meal nutrition programs.

The measure, led by Representatives GT Thompson, R-PA, and Kim Schrier, D-WA, expands the milk options schools can choose to include 2% and whole milk, in addition to the skim and 1% varieties currently allowed, increasing the number of tools schools can use to deliver vital nutrition to students by allowing more nutritious milk options schools can opt to serve.

“Expanding the milk schools can choose to serve to include 2% and whole is a common-sense solution that will help ensure kids have access to the same healthful milk options they drink at home,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern upon House approval.

The House vote came after extensive Hill work and grassroots advocacy, including an NMPF call to action to its mailing list of dairy advocates that can be joined here. The legislation gained near-unanimous support among House Republicans and a majority of Democrats, generating significant momentum for Senate consideration this year.

NMPF has been committed to reinstating in schools the milk options removed in 2012, including 1% flavored milk and all varieties of 2% and whole. After years of working with members of Congress, meeting with USDA, and filing regulatory comments, 1% flavored milk was returned to school lunch menus on more permanent footing in 2022. NMPF has simultaneously built bipartisan support for 2% and whole milk options. NMPF also has been urging the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to incorporate the robust body of scientific evidence showing the health benefits of dairy in all compositions, which should help expand dairy options in nutrition programs limited by dietary guidelines recommendations.

NMPF’s Galen Highlights Key 2023 Policy Achievements for Dairy Community As Christmas Approaches


NMPF’s Chris Galen offers a Christmas-themed list of for listeners of Dairy Radio Now on several major achievements for dairy farmers:  updating the milk pricing system, improving the Farm Bill, and expanding milk options in schools.  He describes how NMPF successfully created momentum in the House of Representatives for a bill that would expand students’ milk options in schools.

NMPF Applauds House Increasing Kids’ Access to Critical Nutrition

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) emphatically commended the House of Representatives for taking a critical step toward improving child nutrition by approving the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act today with a commanding 330-99 bipartisan margin. The measure, led by Representatives GT Thompson, R-PA, and Kim Schrier, D-WA, expands the tools schools can use to deliver vital nutrition to students by increasing the variety of healthful milk options school can choose to serve.

“NMPF is delighted that the House approved the bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act,” said Jim Mulhern, President & CEO of National Milk Producers Federation. “Milk’s unique nutritional profile gives it an unparalleled role in providing kids the nutrients they need. Expanding the milk schools can choose to serve to include 2% and whole is a common-sense solution that will help ensure kids have access to the same healthful milk options they drink at home. House passage is a critical step, and we urge the Senate to consider this bill immediately so it may be enacted into law.”

School milk, a mainstay of lunch menus for generations, plays an especially important role in improving nutrition security as an effective, inexpensive way of providing the nutrition kids need. NMPF has been tireless in its advocacy for reinstating whole milk, which was removed from school lunch menus in 2012. Since then, advancing science on the benefits of milk at all fat levels, as well as evidence of increased food waste from current limited choices, makes its return a top nutrition priority for schoolchildren, the families who serve nutritious fuller-fat varieties at home, and the school meal professionals who strive to effectively nourish those whom they serve.

The House-approved Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act will now be sent to the Senate, which already has its own version of the bill. The Senate measure is being led by Senators Roger Marshall, R-KS, and Peter Welch, D-VT, and has Republican, Democratic, and Independent cosponsors.


Whole Milk Brings the Nutrition Children Want, and Need

Much has changed about milk consumption since 2012, the year that whole and 2 percent milk varieties were no longer allowed in federal school meal programs. Since then, the body of research supporting the benefits of fuller-fat milk has grown more robust, with research showing that dairy foods at higher fat levels are linked to outcomes such as lower total body mass in kids and lower childhood obesity. Milk is, simply put, a nutrition powerhouse.

Concern over food waste has also grown, with food waste rising when kids are given meals they don’t want to eat. Meanwhile, the gulf between what kids drink at home versus what they’re served in schools – already gaping when the ban took effect — has only widened.


This is the percentage of U.S. fluid milk consumption, excluding flavored varieties, in 2012, and again in 2022. Even at the time the rules changed, keeping whole and 2 percent milk off school meal menus was out of step with what parents gave their own children, with roughly 68 percent of consumption coming from those varieties. That should have been an ominous sign for anyone who ever thought children would flock to milk that didn’t taste like what they had at home.

That disconnect is even worse today.

In 2022, whole and 2 percent milk accounted for roughly 80 percent of consumption – and still, students don’t have access to the same healthy choices they almost certainly have at home. This is a lost opportunity for high-quality, affordable nutrition that kids would gladly consume. And that’s why, when the House of Representatives takes up the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act this week, lawmakers should take heed of the choices voters make at the grocery store – decisions that align with the latest scientific research on the benefits of dairy at all fat levels as well as consumer preference.

Having whole and 2 percent milk in school meals will nourish children and reduce food waste. And most importantly, it encourages kids to consume the nutrients they need. Taking the most popular varieties of milk out of meals was a questionable decision in 2012 – it’s indefensible in 2023. NMPF has a call to action urging lawmakers to pass the bill – the bigger the margin, the more pressure on the Senate to make it law. Dairy farmers, as well as parents and educators everywhere, will be watching the House with great interest this week.

And when common sense wins, we know exactly what we’ll drink at the celebration.

NMPF’s Larson on Whole Milk in Schools


NMPF Senior Director of Government Relations Claudia Larson discusses the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, which has bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The legislation would return whole milk to schools, encouraging better nutrition and reducing food waste. Larson speaks on the Rural Radio Network.

NMPF Sends Joint Letter to HHS, USDA Secretaries Urging Inclusion of Dairy Fats Science

NMPF and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) sent a joint letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on May 9 calling for the inclusion of the growing body of science studying dairy fats in the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) review.

Several scientific research studies, including multiple meta-analyses, demonstrate that dairy foods, regardless of fat level, appear to have neutral or beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and other conditions.

The committee, which held its second public meeting on May 10, will use three approaches to examine the evidence used to answer the scientific questions: systematic reviews, food pattern modeling and data analysis. NMPF and IDFA state in the letter, “NMPF and IDFA hope this committee won’t default to the overly broad recommendation to avoid saturated fats regardless of food source. This would fail to answer the 2025 proposed scientific question and, equally important, it would fail to address the 2020 DGAC report’s directive. We strongly urge the committee to develop protocols that will enable it to answer the question about specific food sources of saturated fat, including consideration of the recent science on dairy fats.”

NMPF Statement on Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act

From NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern:

“NMPF commends House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-PA, and Rep. Kim Schrier, D-WA, for their bipartisan Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act to help increase kids’ access to milk’s vital nutrients.

“Good nutrition is a cornerstone of kids’ health and development, and milk plays an unparalleled role in providing the nutrients kids need to grow and thrive. However, most kids and adolescents do not meet the daily dairy intake recommendations made in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Kids take more milk, and drink more milk, in school when they have options they like. A growing body of evidence shows that dairy foods at all fat levels have a neutral or positive effect on health outcomes, ranging from lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes to reduced heart disease risk and healthy cholesterol levels.

“The House Education and the Workforce Committee’s approval of the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act is a significant step toward expanding the popular, healthy milk options schools can serve to improve their students’ nutrient intake. ”