Distaste for milk costing jobs in Duluth

Is her job the next to go? (MPR Photo/Mark Steil)
About three dozen people in Duluth are being tossed out of work because the rest of us aren’t drinking enough milk.

Kemps announced today it’s closing its Franklin Foods milk processing plant in the city next month.

It’s not Obamacare. It’s not state taxes. It’s not the cows. It’s not, apparently, any of the things that are usually cited when plants close down. It’s people who’ve stopped drinking milk.

Employees were told of the decision on Monday and reportedly were “shocked” by the announcement. The company says the drop in consumption of milk is responsible. It’ll still buy milk from area farmers, truck it to Minneapolis for processing, and then send it back.

If the country’s dairyland — and surrounding states — can’t stem the growing distaste for milk, what hope is there for the pastoral scenes that define much of the Upper Midwest?

With each passing generation, people are drinking less milk, despite the clever marketing of the dairy industry that portrayed milk as “healthy.”

USDA

In a report this summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture blamed parents, fast food, other choices for the drop in milk, even blacks and Latinos.

Every decade brings a wider selection of beverage choices at supermarkets, restaurants, and other food outlets. Soft drinks, isotonic sports drinks, bottled water, and other products increasingly compete with fluid milk for a share of the consumer’s appetite. Changes have also occurred over time in the popularity of fast food, among other phenomena.

What the USDA didn’t blame is the one thing that might be responsible: milk itself.

Many people don’t want the fat and cholesterol, and many people can’t handle a glass of milk because they’re “lactose intolerant.”

“My suspicion would still be that the lactose intolerance issue deserves some direct scrutiny,” Slate’s Matthew Yglesias writes. White people are less likely to be lactose intolerant, but it’s a more complicated issue than that. To study it, though, the agency would first have to acknowledge that the issue exists.”

The USDA says the decline in milk consumption is probably going to continue, a fact that should undermine more jobs in dairyland.

  • boB from WA

    Does the same hold true for cheese? Or yogurt? I suspect that the while milk consumption is down, other dairy products still hold sway. I doubt the “pastoral scenes of the upper midwest” will be fading any time soon.

  • BReynolds33

    I watched a show on the Science channel last summer that said that milk is only supposed to be part of our diet until around age five, after which we actually lose the ability to properly digest it. We aren’t lactose “intolerant,” just that our bodies stop producing the enzymes necessary to properly use it after we ingest it.

    It went on to say that if we do not stop drinking milk our bodies build up a “tolerance” for the fat, much the same way we do for alcohol, and that if we stop drinking milk for an extended period of time, our bodies lose that tolerance, and we actually can become sick if we try to drink it after that. (They did note, not deathly sick, but upset stomach and intestinal issues that no one wants to deal with.)

    Add me to the list of people who flat out won’t drink it. It doesn’t taste good, has little irreplaceable nutritional value, and only adds unnecessary fat calories to our diet.

  • emily powell

    I’m one of the lactose intolerant ones so I have to be really careful when I’m eating dairy products, because of that I really don’t drink much milk at all.

    I do eat a lot of yogurt though, because of the cultures (I’m guessing, I don’t really know), I can eat that without worrying.

    • jon

      Yogurt is made by adding lactobacillus to warm milk. The lactobacillus (cultures) eats up the lactose and produces lactic acid, which gives yogurt it’s sour, acidic taste. Many yogurt producers cut the sour taste by adding sugar or high fructose corn syrup back to the yogurt.

  • Tyler

    I would be interested to know if people are drinking less milk because it’s a different product than it was 10 years ago. We’ve been buying Cub 1%, but started buying organic 1% because my wife is pregnant. The difference between the two is unbelievable, and the shelf life of the organic stuff is nearly twice what the Cub-brand milk is.

    Even the difference between Cub’s 1% and Kemps or Land O Lakes 1% is significant. I’m starting to wonder if “milk” is becoming as watered down and processed as much of the other food we eat.

    • Ed

      There is a reason it has a longer shelf life, most chain stores only carry organic milk that is ultra-pasteurized which “cooks” the milk to the point that unopened it has a non-refrigerated shelf life of up to nine months.

  • andy

    Another factor might be that fewer people are growing up on dairy farms. I spent the first 18 years of my life drinking unpasteurized, straight-from-the-bulk tank whole milk. Now, over 20 years later, the only time I consume milk is the rare time I have cold cereal. I can imagine that if I hadn’t grown up with so much milk readily available, I wouldn’t have consumed so much.

    Cheese and yogurt consumption however, has only increased for me….

  • John Peschken

    I once read or heard that the ability to deal with Lactose is a Northern European thing. Those of us with Southern European genes can have trouble. I imagine Mexicans and other South Americans might have the same problem and they are a growing part of the population.

    If I get too much milk, I can be very unpleasant to be around. My co-workers once referred to me as “The Human Tuba”. Soy milk for my Cheerios and water with meals solved that problem.

    For those of you with the same trouble, look for “naturally aged” cheese. Most cheese is artificially aged to speed up the process. The natural aging process cuts way down on the amount of lactose in the cheese.

  • Sarah

    We have switched to hormone free milk delivered in glass bottles. The biggest factor for us was not knowing what was in the milk in the stores – specifically the GMO hormones. The second factor is disposing of all the plastic containers, and having the milk stored in plastic. Another factor is feeling like we can get the vitamins that we “might” get from milk, elsewhere such as in fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds, rather than the vitamins that are added back into pasteurized milk. But, we do like some milk in the house. For now, we love the glass reusable bottles. It feels responsible, and it tastes better.