In 2024, the order is in from Walmart: “More milk, please.” Walmart will spend the year getting ready to open another milk processing plant. The newest plant will operate in Valdosta, Georgia, at an expected $350 million cost and a projected opening date of 2025.
“The new facility continues Walmart's commitment to building a more resilient and transparent supply chain to deliver high-quality products,” the company said in a statement.
The company said the new project would create nearly 400 jobs and will use “ingredients sourced from local farmers. The new facility will process and bottle a variety of milk options including gallon, half gallon, whole, 2%, 1%, skim and 1% chocolate milk for Walmart’s Great Value and Sam’s Club’s Member’s Mark brands. The products from the facility will serve more than 750 Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs in the Southeast.”
Walmart opened its first milk processing facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2018. The company notes that it opened facilities in other industries, too. “Additional investments include opening our first case-ready beef facility in Thomasville, Georgia and building a second case-ready beef facility in Olathe, Kansas.”
Walmart’s move is part of a movement with other large retailers to give themselves more control over supply chains, as Grocery Dive points out. Costco and Albertsons have also expanded processing and production operations.
RELATED: Grocery Dive noticed last June how grocers and retailers across the United States had been bringing private label production in-house as part of a new business model. Read that report here.
There are two other trends impacting landowners: Americans drink less milk than they did in previous generations and small dairy producers are leaving the industry.
The drop in milk consumption is not a recent development. Americans’ annual milk consumption has dropped by nearly two-thirds since reaching its peak of 45 gallons per person in 1945. Federal changes that required milk to be nonfat in schools, younger Americans who grew up without milk as the regular drink at mealtime and growing lactose intolerance in Americans are all possible reasons for the generational decline in milk drinkers, according to a piece in Wisconsin State Farmer. Read that here.
Congress is looking at a plan called “The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act,” to boost students’ interest in milk. The bipartisan bill would allow public schools to serve 2% and whole milk during meals.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act eliminated those two options in 2010 to reduce childhood obesity.
Congress has yet to find agreement in both chambers to expand the milk options. Meanwhile, alternative options like soy and oat milk have become more popular with American consumers.
RELATED: The Guardian explores the efforts in Congress to get more students drinking milk, as well as the plant-based dairy milk alternatives. Read that here.
The drop in milk drinkers, the expanded taste for plant-based beverages, along with the competitive advantages larger dairy producers have all have forced thousands of smaller producers to make the decision to either sell their land altogether or at least transition to another way of life.
Over the past two decades, nearly half of the dairy farmers have left the industry. “If we could make money, we’d still be doing it,” Tom Murray -- a former dairy farmer in Finger Lakes, New York – told CBS in this profile in the changing industry in 2022.