Hear me out: We should have cherry flavored milk.
Go down to Call Hall (when it reopens) and take a look at the dairy counter. You can get more than a dozen different flavors of ice cream that range the gamut from nutty and tangy to sweet and creamy. If the frozen stuff isn’t your thing, you can even opt for a slightly-more-liquid version of the dairy in a milkshake, and goodness I’ve had my fair share of Purple Pride pints.
But if people aren’t too picky about strange or exotic flavors of ice cream, that begs the question: Why don’t we have as many flavors of milk as we do ice cream?
To get to the bottom of this, and perhaps as a long ploy to get to meet a black-and-white spotted cow (that’s a Holstein, by the way), I convinced my editors to send me and a photographer out to Hildebrand Farms Dairy, right outside of Junction City. There, I spoke with Melissa Reed, a fourth-generation dairy farmer with Hildebrand. She lives, breathes and drinks dairy, and growing up, her parents wouldn’t offer guests water — they’d offer cool, refreshing glasses of milk.
Hildebrand has your standard varieties of milk — whole milk, 2%, skim, chocolate, strawberry, etc. What sets them apart is their root beer flavor, which they started producing about a year after they first started glass-bottling their milk 11 years ago.
The idea for the root beer float flavor came when an employee mentioned that they’d seen the flavor at another glass-bottle dairy. They brought that to the area and found their own success with the flavor.
“It’s been a conversation starter ever since,” Reed said. “Our root beer milk, it gets people interested and talking. It’s been a fun product for us, more for the marketing side than anything.”
The root beer float milk tastes like a melted version of the summer treat, with strong hints of vanilla. It looks just a shade lighter than the chocolate milk it often sits by on the grocery refrigerator shelves, and people often don’t immediately notice it since the glass bottles are only identifiable by the color and label of their caps.
But even with the root beer flavor’s success, Reed said the dairy has been hesitant to dive headfirst into the flavor dairy sector. The company’s lines of flavored milk don’t perform as well as the reliable whole and chocolate milk varieties, and only the strawberry flavor has lower sales than the root beer float flavor.
“We’ve found our flavored milk customers to be either/or customers,” she said. “If they’re not buying the chocolate, then maybe they’ll buy one of the newer flavors, but over the long run, we don’t gain a big customer base.”
Reed said the company has mulled adding flavors like orange creamsicle or banana, but those kept getting put on the backburner because of other pressing projects or focuses. Hildebrand has even rolled out pumpkin spice and mocha flavored milks in the past, but sales of those just weren’t strong enough to justify adding them as permanent varieties.
That’s both at the local and national scales. Over the years, waves of flavored milk, particularly from Nestle’s Nesquik brand, have come and gone. In addition to its standard chocolate and strawberry powdered flavor mixes, Nesquik previously included flavors like cherry, mango, cream, triple chocolate, honey, cream soda, caramel and cookies and cream. Those have since been discontinued, but the international company has continued flavors like vanilla in its ready-mixed selection.
Overseas, flavored milk appears to be extremely popular in places like India and especially western Australia, where sales of flavored milk are estimated to outpace those of soda.
As someone who lives, breathes and drinks dairy on a daily basis, Reed said she’s been well in-tune with the American dairy industry during her career. In her opinion, flavored milk hasn’t been as popular because milk itself has waned in how people think of it as just a beverage. Somewhere along the line, the dairy business got behind, and the American people lost the mentality of choosing milk as the beverage of choice at dinner, she said.
“People purpose it as a cooking item as much as an enjoyable treat,” she said. “I wish people thought of milk as a beverage, but I don’t think that’s how our consumers’ minds work right now. They grab their milk for cereal or to make macaroni and cheese.”
But as more people stay at home and learn to cook, Reed said sales first slowed after coffee shops stopped ordering as much but then boomed for all of its dairy products, and their flavored milk lines have been no exception. Sales of those products have doubled since the pandemic started.
“I think a lot of that is that we’re wanting a special sweet treat,” she said. “We’re not going out, and we’re treating ourselves our at home, and I think that’s where our flavored products are finding a niche again.”
And maybe with a change in how people think about milk as a treat, we’ll one day have cherry flavored milk again.
If you’ve got a silly question you’d like researched, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may tackle it in a future column.