Dairy retail sales soar on pre-pandemic levels

Supermarket sales of all dairy products remain higher than they were pre-pandemic, with an extra 302 million litres of milk bought last year compared to 2019.

According to a new article by AHDB’s Retail Insight team, all dairy categories in 2021 – including milk, cheese, butter, cream and yoghurt – remained significantly elevated versus pre-pandemic, although none could reach 2020’s record performance during lockdown.

In 2021, cheese volumes increased by 13.2 per cent compared to 2019, with speciality and continental leading the way with 27 per cent more products sold in-store. Cheddar accounted for 49 per cent of the total volumes and was 11 per cent up on 2019.

While butter volumes were down 1.8 per cent on last year, the category enjoyed significant growth compared to pre-pandemic levels, with volumes increasing 16.5 per cent. While spreading remains key, butter has benefitted from more scratch cooking and baking.

Cream experienced the smallest decline on 2020 levels, with retail volumes down just 0.5 per cent, but the most elevated performance compared to 2019 – up 21.3 per cent, with its use in savoury cooking increasing.

Yogurt saw the lowest lockdown boost out of the dairy categories with volumes down 1.6 per cent year-on-year and gains of only 4.3 per cent on 2019. The category suffered from the loss of take-out lunchboxes, as well as a reduction in promotions. However, yogurt drinks, although a much smaller category, has the opportunity for growth.

AHDB Senior Retail Insight Manager Kim Heath said: “With Covid restrictions easing last year and restaurants and cafes opening again, retail sales were unable to retain the record volumes seen at the height of the pandemic.

“However, it’s incredibly encouraging that when you compare all categories to 2019 – a normal year – every dairy product saw retail growth in 2021. Dairy as a whole remains significantly up on 2019, rising 11.3 per cent in value and 6.3 per cent in volume.”

The research shows that milk volumes were up 5.8 per cent on 2019, with semi-skimmed contributing most to the growth. With more people consuming milk at home, larger four-pint bottles, accounted for 46 per cent of growth.

And evening meals such as Italian based cuisine alongside Mexican dishes, helped grow cheese volumes, as well as lunchtime meals including sandwiches, cheese on toast and jacket potatoes. Cream also benefitted from more savoury cooking.

Kim added: “As a staple product, dairy will continue to do well in 2022, despite growth slowing last year as restrictions were eased.

“We can see that people in the UK continue to enjoy dairy, with 77 per cent of consumers saying dairy is a vital part of their everyday food and 99.5 per cent of households shopped for dairy products every month in 2021.”

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