CHICAGO -- The benefits of milk should be highlighted as a way to encourage adults to increase their intake, especially since research shows consumers have positive impressions of milk, and could be swayed to drink more of it.
A nationwide survey, conducted by the Mintel Group here shows more than half the respondents (54%) said they can tell a difference in taste between brands of milk.
A fertile market among adults exists for milk, the study showed, even though a significant percentage said they're "concerned" about antibiotics. Only 5% said they agreed with the statement, "Milk is for kids, not for adults."
In fact, a full 41% who said they don't drink milk noted that is because "it's not top of mind." Nearly a quarter of respondents who said they don't drink milk noted it's because the beverage is not good for them.
Those attitudes suggest there's a big opportunity for more milk promotion and even for developing a private-label premium brand that does not contain antibiotics. Such a product could fall somewhere between mainstream and organic, in cost as well as in attributes, sources told SN. There's also potential for a brand touted as better-tasting.
"I was very surprised that only 5% felt 'milk is for kids, not for adults.' This shows [95% of adults] are very open to drinking milk as a beverage," said Erin Fowler, editor and consumer research analyst at Mintel. "I see lots of opportunity for proprietary branding. I haven't seen anybody promoting their milk as the better-tasting one, either.
"There's just a lot of opportunity to not treat milk as a commodity," she said.
Her comments are supported by the results of an exclusive Mintel consumer survey that tapped a nationally representative sample of just over 1,000 adults.
As it stands, 60% of sales through the food, drug and mass market channels are from private labels, and most of those products continue to be treated like commodities, Mintel officials noted.
A number of factors could impede the growth of milk. Sales are threatened by the slumping fortunes of cereals and cookies, officials noted. Milk is also feeling the effects of breakfast bars, including the popular ones fortified with nutrients.
A full 70% of Mintel's respondents who drink milk said they enjoy it with cookies and 95% use it on cereal or in coffee.
There's a huge opportunity for the milk industry to educate young people about its health benefits, Fowler said.
The study found a significant number of young couples believe soy milk "is better for you than cow's milk." They are an important audience since they're starting families and influencing their children with their beliefs, Fowler said.
Basically, Fowler said, there are two camps -- consumers who are convinced that milk is good for you and others who sincerely believe dairy milk is not for human consumption.
"There's a growing group of people who have started a backlash against cow's milk," Fowler said. "We know there's a book out there called, 'Milk, The Deadly Poison."'
Nonetheless, cow's milk is a consistent staple that's not going away, Fowler said. In fact, a new heart health study Mintel is working on shows 70% of respondents are drinking low-fat or no-fat milk three times a day specifically for its health benefits.
Also, organic milk is one of the fastest-growing dairy categories. Sales in natural food stores hit $240.1 million in 2004, up 191% since 1991, Fowler said.
The impressive growth could reflect consumers' concerns about antibiotics and growth hormones and, for that reason, organic milk could have unprecedented appeal in mainstream channels, Fowler said.
"That means retailers will have to continue to make important decisions about how to use their refrigerated cases," she said.
The complete milk study is available from the Mintel Group. Members of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association also can buy the report at a discount, said Carol Christison, executive director of the IDDBA, Madison, Wis.