USDA says ice cream helped during pandemic

Published 8:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2022

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When the going gets tough, familiar comforts beckon from the fridge, according to new U.S. Department of Agriculture data showing an increase of per-capita dairy consumption over the past year.

Despite major food service sector disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA’s Economic Research Service reports American demand for dairy products including fluid milk, ice cream, butter and yogurts increased by 3 pounds per person. This was 655 pounds total in 2020 compared to 539 pounds in the previous year.

The increase of dairy indulgence could be linked to more at-home dining, baking and comfort-eating. The updated look at domestic dairy demand indicates pandemic shoppers may have found comfort in butter and ice cream.

That’s good news for Virginia’s dairy farmers said Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Dairy Advisory Committee chair Leigh Pemberton. Virginia’s dairy industry has suffered financial stress for years, with nearly one dairy closing every week in 2019. But the new ERS data shows American dairy consumption is on a growth trajectory.

Pemberton hopes it stays that way.

“When people stayed home and had to start eating cereal, they bought more milk,” he said.

He added that families prepared more food at home when dining options changed, fueling demand for dairy products. Sales of baking-related products increased 24% in the U.S. last year as many consumers turned to home-based activities, according to the Home Baking: U.S. Market Trends & Opportunities report released by Packaged Facts.

Commodity experts agree the pandemic is having a significant impact on how consumers view and consume food.