Consumers have reason to celebrate the approach of June Dairy Month, said Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist.

Not only have dairy products remained a "good buy" for consumers, but the nutritional importance of dairy products in the diet continues to play a foundational role in human health and development.

June Dairy Month originally celebrated the time of the year when surplus milk needed to be sold due to cows producing more milk after receiving pasture in the spring, Hutjens said. During the month of June, consumers will notice more focus on dairy products and dairy product recipes in displays near the dairy case.

"Milk prices have remained constant in most areas with specials on milk as low as $2 to $2.50 a gallon," Hutjens said. "Milk prices remain below break-even at the dairy farm gate with dairy managers receiving $1.20 to $1.30 a gallon."

In addition to cost, consumers have many choices when they go to the grocery store today. From method of production to nutritional content, there are many factors to consider when buying dairy products.

"Organic milk is available at $6 to $7 a gallon," Hutjens said. "Or consumers can purchase 'green' milk from dairy farmers using approved FDA technologies to produce milk resulting in a lower carbon footprint."

Perhaps the most controversial milk in the news is raw milk, or milk that is not pasteurized.

"Consumers should never purchase raw milk due to potential bacteria risks," Hutjens warned.

The nutritional value of dairy products helps them remain popular today.

"Dairy products contain high-quality protein with all essential amino acids in addition to whey proteins that are important in weight control," he said. "Milk contains high levels of calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and added vitamin D, which are critical for human health and bone formation. Dairy products can be particularly important for older consumers."

Daily U.S. dietary guidelines include two servings of dairy products for children from 1 to 8 years of age, and three dairy servings for children over 9 years and adults. These dietary guidelines served as the foundation for the popular "Three a Day" dairy theme used in radio, television, and other media advertising.

So, what kinds of milk and milk products are most favored by U.S. consumers?

In 2008, the average U.S. consumer consumed 85.3 pounds of reduced or low-fat milk, 50.4 pounds of whole milk, 27.1 pounds of fat-free milk, and 14.2 pounds of flavored milk. In addition, each person consumed 32.5 pounds of cheese, 20.7 pounds of ice cream, and 11.8 pounds of yogurt.

Hutjens added that vanilla ice cream remains the No. 1 flavor at 28.7 percent, chocolate followed behind at 10.4 percent, and cookies and cream ranked third at 4.4 percent.

Dairy products that sold well in 2008 include skim milk (up 0.5 percent), low-fat milk (up 5 percent), and yogurt (up 3.6 percent). Meanwhile, whole milk dropped 2.7 percent and cottage cheese dropped 7.7 percent.

"These trends reflect consumers' desire for lower caloric products such as yogurt," Hutjens said. "The advantage of producing a wide variety of dairy products is that it allows consumers to pick their favorite product based on fat content, caloric intake, flavor, taste, cost, and food recipe alternatives."

Last year, the U.S. dairy industry included 54,942 dairy farm operations with 9.2 million dairy cows, down 1.2 percent from 2008. These cows produced 189.3 billion pounds of milk, down 0.3 percent as compared to 2008. U.S. dairy cows averaged 20,576 pounds of milk per cow. In comparison, the European Union of 27 countries has 24.2 million dairy cows producing 12,165 pounds of milk per cow.

"The continued improvements in efficiency in the U.S. dairy industry reflect higher milk yield per cow which results in lower-priced milk and dairy products for U.S. consumers," Hutjens said.

Exports of dairy products continue to improve as the world recession eases and demand increases. Last year, Mexico was the United States' largest foreign customer of dairy products followed by Canada, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan.

Source: Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois College of Agriculture