(TIME) — Milk has long been a staple of American life. But now, the dairy industry is in trouble.
America has fallen out of love with drinking milk, which has been tough on dairy processors. But now, the industry has other problems, too.
America has fallen out of love with drinking milk, as lower-calorie options have proliferated and people are substituting water bottles for milk cartons. Americans each drank an estimated 146 lb. of fluid milk–a category that includes products from skim to cream–in 2018, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. That may sound like a lot, but it’s down 26% just since 2000.
The downturn has been tough on dairy processors like Borden and Dean, which buy fresh milk from farms and use techniques like pasteurization to create a consumer-safe beverage with a longer shelf life. For the past five years, thanks to technology that increased milk production, fresh-milk prices were relatively low, which meant processors could break even despite shifting demand. But prices began ticking up again last year, squeezing the processors’ already tight margins.