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.”


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.