You've Heard Of Cheesepocalypse — But How About the Butter Boom, Or the Ice Cream Crash?


It’s the most delicious viral story in a long time: there is, in the United States just weeks before the Super Bowl, a shortage of Velveeta cheese. According to Kraft (which owns Velveeta), this is just a “short-term issue that’s more noticeable right now given the increased seasonal demand” but the company did acknowledge that some Velveeta products might be scarce for the near future. It’s the Cheesepocalypse!

And while the Cheesepocalypse takes hold on social media like Twitter — it even has it’s own hashtag — the shortage comes in the midst of something of an upheaval in America’s dairy consumption in general.

You see, Americans — especially millennials — are drinking less milk than they have since the 1970s, while they consume more butter than any time in the past 40 years. The dairy aisle in your local supermarket has never been more interesting.

Let’s start with milk. In May 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report investigating the drop in Americans’ milk consumption. It found that milk consumption in the U.S. has been pretty steadily declining since the late 1970s, with a slight bump at the onset of the 2000s before falling again.

Source: USDA

While total dairy consumption has held relatively steady, that’s in large part due to rising cheese consumption that counteracts the fact that “Americans are drinking progressively less fluid milk.”

What’s the cause? The report found that while portion sizes of milk have increased (nearly a full cup now compared to 4/5 of a cup in 1978), the frequency with which milk is consumed has dropped considerably, with nearly a quarter of children and more than half of adults reporting zero milk-drinking occasions per day.

But while Americans move away from milk, butter is booming. Americans’ butter consumption is the highest in 40 years, eating 5.6 pounds of butter per capita in 2012. That’s up 25% from 10 years ago. Most attribute the embrace of butter to the growing rejection of trans fats (which the Food and Drug Administration is trying to ban, essentially), which means people are reaching for butter instead of processed margarine. But some, including the American Butter Institute, point to the popularity of the Food Network and cooking shows for inspiring Americans to take to their own kitchens. Whatever it is, butter is enjoying something of a renaissance in U.S. households.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

OK, I know what you’re all thinking. Cheese, milk, butter – they’re all fine. But what about the best of the dairy products? What of ice cream?! Ice cream is a billion dollar industry each year, producing millions of gallons. But it too has seen its consumption decline:

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Check out that huge drop between 2003 and 2004. Shame on you, America, for eschewing ice cream like that. 

So Cheesepocalypse or not, America’s dairy consumption is experiencing a bit of a shake up. Milk is waning, butter is making a comeback, and ice cream, well, I think we should all go grab a bowl or cone right now.