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The Teat Hath Run Dry: America’s Largest Dairy Producer Declares Bankruptcy

Plus, Carl’s Jr. pivots from “sexy” to food-focused ads, and more news to start your day

A grocery store aisle displaying half-gallon jugs of DairyPure milk.
Dean Foods is behind more than 50 brands, including DairyPure, Country Fresh, and TruMoo.
Photo: Sundry Photography / Shutterstock

America’s largest milk producer goes bankrupt

Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, has filed for bankruptcy. The 94-year-old company — known for brands including Country Fresh, TruMoo, Land O’Lakes, and DairyPure — has faced years of falling sales and financial setbacks as Americans drink less cow’s milk, and as key big-box retailer customers like Walmart have opened their own dairy plants to supply store-branded milk.

“Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” Dean Foods CEO Eric Beringause said in a statement. The company has secured $850 million in debtor-in-possession financing to keep operations running and employees (of which there are approximately 15,000) paid while it looks for a buyer — potentially the Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative made up of about 14,000 dairy producers.

Americans are now drinking less traditional cow’s milk than ever before. “If we would go back 30 years to 1989, milk was present at 15% at all occasions in the home. Fast-forward to today, that number is now 9%,” an analyst at market research company NPD Group told Fast Company. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, U.S. consumption of milk is down 39 percent over the past 40 years, and is now at the lowest level since the agency began keeping track in 1975, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Meanwhile, alternative milks like soy, almond, and oat are becoming more popular, as consumers seek out healthier or plant-based options. Although sales of those alternatives remain only a fraction of the traditional milk market, sales have grown continually and are expected to surpass $18 billion globally this year, CNN reports. It seems that the death of Big Milk is just one more thing to blame on millennials.

Correction: 4:45 p.m., November 15, 2019: A photo caption originally stated that Organic Valley is among the brands owned by Dean Foods. Organic Valley has a joint venture with Dean Foods, but is not owned by the company.

And in other news…

  • After a decade of running notoriously “sexy” (read: objectifying) burger ads, and a couple years trying to reverse that image, Carl’s Jr. has announced that its new image will focus on the food. [NYT]
  • The suspect in the fatal stabbing outside a Popeyes has been identified and charged, although he remains at large. [NBC News]
  • The Turkish restaurateur and butcher known as Salt Bae has been forced to cough up a $230,000 settlement to four former servers at his Manhattan restaurant because of questionable tipping practices. [Grub Street]
  • Apparently the plant-based Impossible Whopper is such a hit, Burger King is adding three more versions to its menu to test: an Impossible Burger, an Impossible Cheeseburger, and an Impossible Whopper Jr. [The Takeout]
  • Arby’s is apologizing for a notice displayed by a Minnesota franchisee, informing customers that “only well-behaved children who can keep their food on their trays and their bottoms on their seats are welcome.” [People]
  • Inside the world of illegal street vendors in New York City: the mango slicers, churro carts, and Italian ice vendors who are often female, and who typically lack the several thousand dollars it can cost to nab a city-issued vending permit on the black market. [NYT]
  • Five words: Nightmare Before Christmas booze cruise. [Insider]

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