Dare to Dairy
A study looking at the challenges faced in marketing milk to millennials, even in Ireland (now the world’s top dairy consuming market.) B&A has been involved in long term work to help redefine and reposition dairy for a more challenging and fickle demographic.
The challenge of remaining number one
Behaviour & Attitudes’ work for the NDC highlights the issues that undermine dairy and show us where the millennial battle needs to be won.
Research recently undertaken for the National Dairy Council illustrates the specific issues confronting many food producers and particularly among millennial consumers. A two-year research programme has looked at Irish attitudes to milk and dairy products, but has particularly focussed in on the underlying drivers of change in millennial dairy consumption.
Since 2016 Ireland has recorded the highest per capita milk consumption in the world, with the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand not far behind. As such, dairy is in a considerably stronger position in Ireland than in most other markets, but with some evidence of undermining trends among younger consumers that mirror those seen elsewhere.
The typical Irish home consumes 6.2 litres of milk per week, with higher levels driven by the presence of children and among lifestage groups where pre-teen and teenage kids are most common.
Focussing in on consumption by different demographic groups we notice that in Dublin and among middle class consumers particularly there are the biggest underlying shifts, with a decline in traditional full and low fat milk use and substantial growth by vitamin-fortified milk and indeed of skimmed milk. Soya and almond milk also feature, although at a very low level. About 5% of Irish adults consume almond milk and just 4% soya milk, but as yet these groups consume very little of it. As such, the local impact of substitutes on dairy milk has been very limited.
Milk continues to enjoy a very positive and virtuous image, although millennials and particularly women under 35 harbour substantial misgivings that it is hard to digest, fattening and potentially provokes allergies. Older women are much more positive about milk, but often don’t drink it themselves: they see it as something that is mainly worthwhile for their children. Women generally don’t buy into the notion of milk being about positive health and making them feel stronger to the same extent that men do.
In Ireland today roughly 22% avoid milk at some level and as many as 39% avoid dairy products. However about two out of three of all such avoiders have a largely positive perspective of milk; they like it but try to cut down on the amount of it that they consume.
The NDC study also examines the proportion of the population following special or exclusionary diets. It will surprise no one that as many as 43% of the adult population, (and indeed 6% more than last year), endeavour to maximise the amount of protein in their diets. This is even more pronounced among millennials. Interestingly, commitment to sugar free diets is reducing, although still more pronounced than vegetarianism, lactose-free and indeed vegan diets. About 17% are vegetarian (6% all the time), 14% lactose free (5% all the time) and 9% are vegan (of whom just 3% are ‘always vegan’.) Each of these types of diets are notably more pronounced among millennials, but few are practiced on a thorough or daily basis. For example only two thirds of vegans indicate that they limit their consumption of dairy: not all vegans are as exclusionary as it might seem and many are quite fluid in their dietary routine.
Enduring issues for millennial consumers are around trust, as seen in many other sectors. They are dubious about large companies and these doubts extend to those involved in dairy production, as well as to those involved in dairy farming. There is undoubtedly a need to build trust in the sector, as well as ensuring that dairy farms do as much as possible to minimise their environmental impact.
Global data (from Rabobank) indicates that the rate of growth of milk alternatives or substitutes in Ireland is very substantial, but the NDC study emphasises that such growth remains off a very low base and is limited to a consumer group with a much diminished pre-existing milk or dairy consumption habit.
What is worrying is that the numbers who feel that dairy may cause allergies remains quite high: 22% of all millennials feel that dairy has an allergy connection, running vastly ahead of the accepted/proven level of adverse reaction to dairy, which lies in the very low single digits. For some, claiming that they exclude milk due to allergy is evidently a quite faddy or trendy perspective, driven much more by diet bloggers and fashion than by scientific fact.
Apart from this, the study reminds us of the importance of trust, environmental sensitivity and of companies behaving in a personable and pro-consumer manner. None of these factors can be characterised as issues more likely to befall dairy than other food categories. However, they do remind us that millennials are faddy and prone to not committing wholeheartedly to their food principles and beliefs.
NDC’s very effective and ongoing Complete Natural campaign aims to counter the negative mindset characteristic of some millennials in respect of the category.
Larry Ryan is a Director of Behaviour & Attitudes. This paper summarises themes from a paper presented to a joint NDC/Marketing Institute ‘Dare to Dairy’ conference at the Mansion House in July.