Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor



Toddler ‘Milks’ Appear To Be Hurting Sales Of Real Milk

Dick Groves
Cheese Reporter

February 21, 2020

Toddlers aren’t exactly a huge market for the dairy industry, probably due in part to the fact that there aren’t a lot of them. By one definition, toddlers are 12 to 36 months of age, and since just under 4 million babies are born in the US every year, that means that the toddler market consists of fewer than 8 million youngsters.

So at first blush, what’s happening at the “toddler level” when it comes to milk maybe doesn’t amount to all that big a deal. But there’s some new evidence that what’s happening with the toddler milk market should be concerning for the dairy industry.

As reported on our front page two weeks ago (to locate our February 7th issue), aggressive marketing of toddler milks has likely contributed to rapid sales increases of these products in the US, according to a paper published in Public Health Nutrition.

As the study explained, toddler milks are typically produced by formula manufacturers and are marketed for toddlers as the “next step” after infant formula. They consist primarily of powdered lowfat milk, corn syrup solids or other caloric sweeteners, and vegetable oil.

The next sentence in the study is the one that really caught our eye: “Compared with plain whole cow’s milk (which is recommended for young toddlers), they contain added sugar, more sodium and less protein.”

So, what’s the problem here? Well, for toddlers, the answer is, as noted in the study: plain whole cow’s milk is what’s recommended for young toddlers, not “toddler milks.”

But instead of real milk, toddlers are getting beverages that come up well short of milk’s advantages. That should be particularly concerning when it comes to protein content, as well as fat. In the case of several toddler milks we looked at, the number one ingredient was nonfat milk (which we assume is nonfat dry milk, since these toddler milk products are powders), followed by various forms of oil (for example, Go and Grow from Similac contains, in order, nonfat milk, lactose, high oleic safflower oil, soy oil, and coconut oil, among other ingredients).

These toddler milk products don’t exactly have short ingredient lists, either. That’s pretty obvious, given the above list, which includes sources of milk, sweetener (lactose) and fat (three different vegetable oils). These ingredients in whole milk are listed as follows: “milk.”

When it comes to “selling” nutrition, we have to give a little credit to the toddler milk companies: in addition to listing required micronutrients and macronutrients, at least some of them list such things as riboflavin, phosphorus and magnesium, which are also prevalent in milk but don’t seem to be voluntarily listed in many “Nutrition Facts” statements.

So the bottom line for toddlers is that toddler milks are a product that contains a long list of ingredients, a fair amount of nutrients (many of them added in the form of ingredients, rather than occurring “naturally”), and a sweeter taste than plain whole milk.

For the dairy industry, these toddler milks are potentially causing at least three problems. First, for that particular market (toddlers), toddler milk sales are “growing rapidly,” the study noted, as evidenced by a more than doubling of sales over the 10-year period examined (2006-15).

That’s an interesting observation, given that whole milk sales during that same period fell from 16.7 billion pounds in 2006 to 14.6 billion pounds in 2015, according to statistics from USDA.

That decline in whole milk sales can apparently be explained in part by the sharp rise in toddler milk sales.

A second problem these toddler milk sales appear to be causing for the dairy industry is that, according to the study, serving these toddler milks “may also contribute to conditioned preferences for sweet drinks over plain drinks, including plain milk, and less-sweet foods.”

In other words, toddlers served these beverages when they are one and two years old might never develop a taste for good old plain milk, meaning they will be non-consumers for the rest of their lives. And that’s certainly going to hurt milk sales in the long run.

Yet another dairy industry problem with these toddler milk products is in the area of money. Specifically, these toddler milks start with nonfat dry milk, a Class IV product, and are apparently hurting sales of whole milk, a Class I product. It’s not too difficult to see what this means for farm milk prices.

So what’s the solution here? The study says there are several opportunities to address the public health concerns raised by the “rapid increase” in toddler milk sales and associated marketing practices. For example, the study said countries need to incorporate marketing of toddler milks in regulations that prohibit direct-to-consumer breast-milk substitute marketing, including TV advertising and retail promotions. It also called on health-care and nutrition professional organizations to publish policy statements and provide clear guidance for parents about serving these products.

The study also said the US Food and Drug Administration should establish a statement of identity and other labeling requirements for toddler milks to address consumer confusion about these products. Yes, these products may need to be regulated more strictly, given that, among other things, they seem to be sold under different terms, such as “Dairy Toddler Formula” and “Toddler Nutritional Drink.”

Finally, maybe the dairy industry needs to step up the marketing of whole milk to parents of toddlers, including more direct comparisons of whole milk to toddler drinks.


Dick Groves

Dick Groves has been publisher/editor of Cheese Reporter since 1989. He has over 35 years experience covering the dairy industry. His weekly editorial is read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3791 dgroves@cheesereporter.com

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