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 AHDB figures.

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 compared to pre-pandemic levels, although none could reach 2020’s record performance during lockdown.

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

While butter volumes were down 1.8% on last year, the category enjoyed significant growth compared to pre-pandemic levels, with volumes increasing 16.5%. 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%, but the most elevated performance compared to 2019 – up 21.3%, with its use in savoury cooking increasing.

Yogurt saw the lowest lockdown boost out of the dairy categories with volumes down 1.6% year-on-year and gains of only 4.3% 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% in value and 6.3% in volume.”

The research shows that milk volumes were up 5.8% on 2019, with semi-skimmed contributing most to the growth. With more people consuming milk at home, larger four-pint bottles, accounted for 46% 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% of consumers saying dairy is a vital part of their everyday food and 99.5% of households shopped for dairy products every month in 2021.”

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