Chocolate Milk Is The Dairy Industry's Cash Cow

Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee—flavored milks are big business for dairy producers.

If the thought of an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk brings you joy, you are not alone. In fact, you're in the majority: Even though we might consider it a product aimed at children (and they certainly love the stuff), flavored milk is for everyone, and it's big business for dairy producers.

"Flavored milk's role in a bigger milk market is seen as a 'treat,' but it's a good way to get more adults to drink their milk—not just kids," Jessica Dizek from Mapleline Dairy Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts told The Takeout. "Kids are served milk daily and have access to it at schools, but many adults are not getting enough calcium and vitamins in their diets."

According to a report from market research firm Fact.MR, the popularity of flavored milk is on the rise, and as Dizek pointed out, this is due in part to the nutritional benefits milk has to offer.

"Growing demand for health foods is likely to be the driving force for the expansion of the global flavor milk market during the forecast period," reads the report from Fact.MR. "Customers are aware of the quality of the food they consume. Flavor milk is a rich source of calcium, protein, and vitamins."

Indeed, when schools consider banning chocolate milk due to its added sugar, nutritionists often point out that the flavor is motivating kids to drink a nutrient-rich beverage, and if that option goes away, students might skip the milk altogether.

Flavored milk outweighs plain milk in school settings

Jenn Damouras, senior marketing manager at New England Dairy, told The Takeout that in schools, chocolate milk sales outweigh plain milk sales.

"When provided the choice, students favor flavored, predominantly chocolate, milk," she said. "Chocolate milk is nearly two-thirds of the share in schools while non-flavored milk is one-third of the share. Additional flavored milk options, such as strawberry, are a small percentage of the share."

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Chocolate is the favorite, but other flavors attract customers, too.

"We at New England Dairy conduct many consumer events, and if any credit can be given to anecdotal evidence, people tell us that they love flavored milk including chocolate," said Damouras. "And they like creative new flavors."

Mapleline Dairy produces flavored milks that appeal to all, such as strawberry, maple, orange cream, and, seasonally, eggnog. Coffee milk, another favorite, may appeal most to adults. Unlike Mapleline's other flavored milks, which are flavored with a powder, the coffee milk is made using real coffee. "We use a high-quality coffee extract to give it a real rich flavor," said Dizek.

Dizek said that at Mapleline Dairy, flavored milk accounts for 20% of sales. "Our chocolate milk has a following," she said. The dairy uses whole milk when producing its flavored milks.

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"Whole is definitely the best," said Dizek. "It gives the flavored milk more of a rich, taste... almost reminiscent of a milkshake, but much more convenient. We made a 1% chocolate years ago and it wasn't a big seller."

Whole milk is America’s favorite

Damouras said that although different dairy producers do use 1% and 2% milk for flavored milks, overall, consumers prefer whole milk, and that's true whether they're drinking it with added flavor or not.

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"Generally, we are seeing more people trending towards selecting whole milk," she said.

According to Damouras, based on sales through August 2023, whole milk comprises 45% of milk sales. Although slightly more households with children prefer whole milk (49%), it's also a favorite for adult-only households, of which 40% prefer whole milk.

Big brands cash in on flavored milk

Although private label products (i.e. the ones sold under generic store brands) tend to drive flavored milk sales by a wide margin, big companies selling name-brand products are heavy players in the flavored milk game, too, and they aren't letting up. Nestlé Sensations, which already has a cache of flavored milks, is launching two new milks flavored to taste like breakfast.

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Frosted Flakes flavored milk—which I assume tastes like the leftover milk at the end of a bowl of cereal—is set to debut in November, and Eggo Waffles flavored milk (which has notes of waffles, butter, and syrup) is set to debut in January. These join a lineup of other breakfast-flavored milks from Nestlé Sensations, including Froot Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Personally, I'm not sold on these brightly packaged cereal-flavored milks (I can get that when eating a bowl of cereal, thank you very much), but all this thinking about flavored milk does indeed have me craving a cold, milkshake-thick cup of chocolate milk. Dairy producers don't have to get any more complicated than that—it's a fan favorite for a reason.

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