EAU CLAIRE, MILWAUKEE (WEAU, AP) -- Sales of milk as a beverage have dropped to the lowest level in nearly 30 years.
Experts say consumer habits are shifting toward sports drinks, bottled water and bottled tea and away from milk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says beverage milk sales were about 6 billion gallons in 2011.
Health experts and farmers say they're concerned about the latest U.S. Department of agriculture reports saying U.S. beverage milk sales in 2011 were the lowest in 27 years, at 6 billion gallons.
Elk Mound dairy farm co-owner Marie Pagenkopf pointed out the bright side, that milk is selling well for use in other dairy products but that marketing changes are needed.
"I think we have to focus on the positive, the fact that cheese products and yogurts are up," Pagenkopf said. "As an industry we need to work on the marketing strategy so we don't continue to go backwards because the cheese and yogurt isn't gonna make it up forever."
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board said sales of yogurt and other dairy products have offset the decline of beverage milk. They said Wisconsin has a 48 percent share of U.S. specialty cheese sales, which have nearly doubled in sales per capita since 1975. But the board said less demand could also lower milk prices.
Mayo Clinic Health System registered dietitian Diane Dressel said there are big health risks if the trend continues.
"We're gonna see a lot more osteoporosis. We're seeing it now, in a generation that did drink some milk, so Osteoporosis, weakening of bones and teeth, we're gonna have a crisis on our hands down the pipe," Dressel said.
"We're at the point where we take it or leave it, and what's happening is, we're leaving it," she said, adding that many have replaced milk consumption with water, pop or tea.
She said milk is the best source of calcium and Vitamin D than other dairy or drinks, and chocolate milk is healthier than many drink options.
Eau Claire School District food nutrition director Sue Brown said 81 percent of its students still take milk, down only one percent from 2010.
"We know it's an important part of a healthy diet and we do encourage kids to drink milk," Brown said.