Which consumers are cutting back on dairy – and why?

The young questioning female consumer is the main demographic subset that is actively cutting down on dairy – something that needs to be addressed, according to CEO of the National Dairy Council (NDC) Zoe Kavanagh.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, Kavanagh highlighted that a challenge for the NDC is to ensure that it is “landing messages in a way that is truly comprehensive and trusted about how our product is being produced, but also around the nutritional benefits”.

When asked about recent research showing that 41% of Irish women and 30% of men are “cutting back on dairy”, the CEO said:

“That particular avoidance is quite specific to the 20 to 29-year-old female; she’s typically in an urban environment and she’s questioning for three reasons for limiting or moderating dairy in the diet.

Fat; allergy; and intolerance – they are the three areas where most of the health questioning is coming from for dairy.

“Where’s that coming from? Well, again I’ll come back to the online world, a lot of celebrities and influencers promoting diets around dropping dress sizes and just having a better image – and they’re suggesting you can do that by limiting or moderating dairy in the diet.

“So that’s a real challenge and a real concern. Because if we don’t address that and presume when those young women become mothers, ‘they’ll just come back to the dairy aisles when completing their family shop’, I think we’re mistaken.

“Because sadly, that young, questioning female consumer has found alternatives which she believes are helping her with her fat, allergy and intolerance.

And, as we know, the dairy-alternative products that are appearing in-store, at twice the price and a fraction of the nutrition, are not nutritionally equivalent. They are just incomparable.

“So the challenge we have is how do we educate that young female that she’s missing out on a whole suite of vital nutrition by going for the dairy alternatives? I think we have two jobs here.”

The first of these, Kavanagh said, is to engage with the consumer directly and outline the benefits of dairy, both directly and indirectly.

This, she added, is done through health professionals and dairy ambassadors from sport and fashion to “reassure that questioning consumer around the nutritional benefits”.

“But furthermore with retailers. And I think what we’re witnessing now is we’ve retailers that are quite frankly using milk as a loss leader to reassure their customers that they are delivering good value – and yet, at the same time, are giving more shelf space to these dairy alternatives that are a much, much higher price but a fraction of the nutritional content.

“And that’s putting margin in their back pockets. I think there’s a body of work for us to do, along with branded suppliers, to actually work with retailers.

I’ve seen in Australia they’re actually increasing the cost of dairy to the consumer as a means of reassuring the consumer as to the nutritional benefits.

“Because if you keep cheapening the price of a highly nutritious product, you’re almost suggesting it’s not good for you.

“So, from a population health point of view, I think we’ve a big, big body of work to do at retail level to present our products as being part of a population health solution,” Kavanagh concluded.