USDA says ice cream helped during pandemic

Published 9:41 am Thursday, November 3, 2022

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When the going gets tough, familiar comforts beckon from the fridge, according to new U.S. Department of Agriculture data showing an increase of per-capita dairy consumption over the past year.

Despite major food service sector disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA’s Economic Research Service reports American demand for dairy products including fluid milk, ice cream, butter and yogurts increased by 3 pounds per person. This was 655 pounds total in 2020 compared to 539 pounds in the previous year.

The increase of dairy indulgence could be linked to more at-home dining, baking and comfort-eating. The updated look at domestic dairy demand indicates pandemic shoppers may have found comfort in butter and ice cream.

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That’s good news for Virginia’s dairy farmers said Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Dairy Advisory Committee chair Leigh Pemberton. Virginia’s dairy industry has suffered financial stress for years, with nearly one dairy closing every week in 2019. But the new ERS data shows American dairy consumption is on a growth trajectory.

Pemberton hopes it stays that way.

“When people stayed home and had to start eating cereal, they bought more milk,” he said. “We’ve seen fluid milk consumption go up in the last year overall, and it still is.”

He added that families prepared more food at home when dining options changed, fueling demand for dairy products. Sales of baking-related products increased 24% in the U.S. last year as many consumers turned to home-based activities, according to the Home Baking: U.S. Market Trends & Opportunities report released by Packaged Facts.

“It would be interesting if we continue this trend, when the world hopefully comes back to what it was before 2020,” Pemberton said. “Are those buying habits ingrained enough that it will stick? You’ve got to look for the good in the bad, and I’m staying positive — hoping that dairy consumption will continue to increase going forward.”

Commodity experts agree the pandemic is having a significant impact on how consumers view and consume food.

“Many have learned or relearned how to prepare meals from scratch, and there has been a shift to comfort-type foods and dishes,” said Tony Banks, VFBF senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation. “Milk and dairy products fit this shift in home meal prep. We hope this is a trend that can continue.”