Why is there no more milk delivery in the US?
April 16, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Why is there no more milk delivery in the US? It used to be common, now it's extremely rare. Why is that?

The only previous question I could find was more about the glass bottles.
posted by gleuschk to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by alexei at 2:04 PM on April 16, 2007

"economic pressure" and other things
posted by mattbucher at 2:16 PM on April 16, 2007

Labor costs were probably the biggest reason. It just didn't make sense any more.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:31 PM on April 16, 2007

Milk is still delivered in Berkeley, CA at least it was until I was a junior in college (that was 2001). The real issue was economic pressures. You can buy milk anywhere, and the mystique of glass bottles disappears the minute your child breaks one in the kitchen and has a glass cut so deep and wide you have to drop everything and go to the hospital.

The dairies kept changing, too. As a child, it was Berkeley Farms, then, in high school the milk changed to organic Strauss Farms in 1996. Strauss was OK, but the milk was full-fat, we had to put a couple drops of lemon juice in each bottle and watch the fat rise to the surface so we could scoop it out.
posted by parmanparman at 2:34 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

There are still delivery services that provide milk, ice cream, and other frozen foods. They managed to find a niche by expanding their services.
posted by JJ86 at 2:42 PM on April 16, 2007

Bottled milk is SOOOO much tastier but it's more expensive. You also pay $1 deposit on the bottles. You can get Strauss milk as low or non-fat, not just full fat... I buy it all the time. In LA you can buy Broguiere's milk in bottles, too... their milk is GREAT. You have to buy the milk in stores though, nobody delivers anymore. Gotta have cars, insurance, more employees, etc. so it's probably not a good investment for the dairies. Especially in spread out areas like Los Angeles and the Bay area.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:47 PM on April 16, 2007

I thought it had gone away too. I just recently started to get weekly milk deliveries (in SoCal), after a door to door solicitation. It makes sense, with two young kids, we go through a lot of milk, and it is much more convenient that having to remember/plan to run by the store for it. Also, my understanding is that our milk delivery supports smaller dairy farms and that they do not use rBST. I could probably get no rBST milk at the grocery store, but at that point the price is the same, and the convenience is gone.

I should mention, mine doesn't come in the cool glass bottles, we just get your normal old plastic gallon bottles.
posted by tdischino at 2:53 PM on April 16, 2007

Best answer: You can still get milk delivered in lots of places, but it seems like more of a novelty/nostalgia thing.

There were several factors that killed off home delivery:

-Better refrigeration (like insulated road tankers) and better distribution systems (like the interstate highways) led to larger dairies.

-Larger dairies meant economies of scale, lowering prices and cutting into the profits of the delivery services. The milkmen would have to deliver to more homes to make the same money.

-At the same time, better refrigeration, better distribution, and cheaper prices milk more ubiquitous, available at more places, and less dependent on delivery.

-Milkmen didn't just deliver milk, they picked up the empty glass bottles for washing and re-use. The advent of cheap, disposable plastic containers meant that there were no longer bottles that needed to be picked up by the delivery service.

And yes, I'm from Wisconsin.
posted by Gamblor at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Growing up in Southern California, we used to have plastic quarts of milk from Alta Dena Dairy delivered to our house every wednesday morning. A quick search yielded the that they still offer home delivery.

I suspect that in addition to refrigeration and labor costs, many dairies stopped delivering milk as the act itself became somewhat redundant. I assume the majority of people grocery shop for themselves (instead of perhaps growing their own food? or buying it from local farmers?), and tend to patronize shops that also carry milk, so they purchase it with their other goods. Also, the process ultra-pasteurization lessens the requirement for frequent milk delivery, as perhaps was the case in earlier eras, as ultra-pasteurized milks tends not to spoil as quickly.

aside: wow, parmanparman, I didn't know that you could encourage the fat out of milk using lemon juice! I know that citris juices tend to curdle milk, but I hadn't a clue that it could be useful. Let's say, hypothetically, that I am to buy a glass bottle of whole-fat milk. How much lemon juice would I use in this process of de-fatting?
posted by numinous at 2:57 PM on April 16, 2007

When I was 4 or 5, my family went to England for a month. I remember their being milk delivery at the flat we rented, and I remember being confused and surprised.

I think people have hit on the main reasons for a lack of milk delivery. I wonder if an additional factor is the change in the workforce. Would it be acceptable to leave milk outside with current health codes? If not, you would need someone at home when the milk would arrive. In the past half-century, it's become much less common to have someone at home all day.
posted by JMOZ at 3:07 PM on April 16, 2007

JMOZ, I believe most milk delivery is dawn/pre-dawn, when its chilly outside. I usually get mine when i'm leaving the house for work.
posted by tdischino at 3:27 PM on April 16, 2007

I think gamblor nailed it. Out here we can get milk delivery from a local organic dairy that also delivers to small stores. Along with milk they also have eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt and even ice cream. They deliver late on Sunday and require a cooler on the porch.
posted by rosebengal at 3:53 PM on April 16, 2007

In the old days, I don't think they delivered milk in refrigerated trucks. The funny thing I noticed when I lived in Madrid was that in the grocery stores, they sell the milk in the foil cartons and they do not refrigerate it. After you open it you refrigerate it but before you don't have to. I'm not sure if they process it differently over there?
posted by JJ86 at 5:17 PM on April 16, 2007

JJ86: That's UHT milk. You can get it in the states; it's often shelved by the soy and rice milks, in the same Tetrapak cartons.

We used to get milk delivery in CT; we stopped because the prices were getting too high, and as my brother and I grew up, our lactose intolerance became worse. Mom loved getting all 12 dozen eggs for Easter cooking delivered to our doorstep, though. I hated going out to the cooler (tin box with styrofoam in it) in the snow or rain. Goddamn Tuesday mornings.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:38 PM on April 16, 2007

Numinous, I suspect the milk in question is not homogenized.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:16 PM on April 16, 2007

I've not seen it mentioned above (perhaps I've read too quickly) but could a change in the scale of milk consumption is a contributing factor?

We buy what seems like huge quantities of milk (local dairy, glass bottled, non-homoginized cream-on-the-top) for our 18 month-old son but this no doubt pales in comparison to what we drank at home when I was a boy (c. 1968) and milk was delivered: we were five kids in a span of 9 years in a fairly densly populated suburb of startling similar demographics. Yes, our fridge was smaller but not so small that it could not hold a gallon between store trips.

On the other hand, our soda was also delivered and I know more of that is now being consumed than then. (Although ours was a local brand: Pequot. This was in East Hartford, Connecticut; not an upscale suburb.)
posted by Dick Paris at 7:40 PM on April 16, 2007

You can still get milk delivered to you in Korea, especially if you're in an apartment. This is probably due to the fact that milk isn't amazingly popular, at least relative to the US/western world, so the milk companies in Korea try their best to increase their customers. They'll often have special deals or incentives if you sign up and pay for a few months in advance.

Also, most of the apartment complexes are dense and near each other, so it's not too much of a door-door operation but a building-to-building one. When there are 500 apartments per building, and 10~50 buildings per complex, and most people live in such complexes, I imagine it's not too inconvenient or costly to deliver milk regardless of the labor costs.

The milk that's delivered is in normal semi-paper milk cartons though, and the same you can get at the store. It's normally delivered at 5am or so, and the apartment doors will have small little cat-holes that allow the newspaper/milk delivery people to push stuff inside.

So yeah, I vote for labor costs and economies of scale and all that.
posted by suedehead at 7:57 PM on April 16, 2007

Best answer: In short: supermarkets.

1964: Plastic milk container introduced commercially.

I think that (obviating the need for glass pickup and thus eliminating half of a job), combined with the rise and proliferation of the modern-day supermarket together sounded the death knell for milk delivery.

This dairy page talks about how convenience stores and supermarkets started to attract customers by selling milk at lower prices as a loss leader; customers followed the milk (once considered such a true daily necessity), and home delivery demand dropped.

This page on refillable beverage containers says . "When supermarkets took the distribution of milk away from home delivery, they forced the use of one-way containers by packaging their private-label milk in cartons and by refusing to accept milk from other companies in refillable bottles."

Historic New England created a great traveling exhibit a few years ago called "From Dairy to Doorstep." This page talks about supermarkets as a major factor, and says "By the 1960s, the housewife in the family car had replaced the milkman on his delivery route. Supermarkets, refrigerators, and affordable automobiles made the milkman obsolete, and home milk delivery as a reassuring staple of city and village life receded into memory."
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on April 16, 2007

numinous: I don't know how much lemon juice it takes to seperate the fat out of milk, but the juice from a lemon and a half is more than enough to seperate a gallon of milk into curds and whey. That's how much it took the last time I made paneer (fresh cheese, Indian style. Kind of like pressed cottage cheese or queso blanco.).

I suppose you could add it a few drops at a time.
posted by trouserbat at 8:17 PM on April 16, 2007

We moved to the 'burbs in 1965, and had milk deliveries two days a week until 1982. At first we had a milkbox on the front porch, but later Tom would just came in through the kitchen door and put the milk in the fridge.

I know that one of the selling points was that most families only had one car, and dad took it to work everyday. The milkman would provide all the dairy stuff, eggs, oj, yogurt and butter. Besides milk, we also had delivery guys with soda, bread, chips and pretzels.
posted by Marky at 9:43 PM on April 16, 2007

FWIW, I have a dairy deliver my milk to me weekly, and I live in the city of Minneapolis. Aside from the fact that I get fresh-that-day milk, the big plus to me is that I no longer have to buy the heaviest item in my shopping cart at the grocery store.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:33 AM on April 17, 2007

I hate you, Milkman Dan.
posted by banshee at 9:38 AM on April 17, 2007

More cars, working mothers, more stores. In the 50s and 60s, every family didn't have 2 cars, and there weren't nearly as many supermarkets. Not to mention that gas stations and drugstores didn't sell milk. I can't even guess how many places I could get milk within 2 miles of my house right now - probably around 30. When people had to wait for the "breadwinner" to bring the car home, then drive 5 miles, milk delivery made much more sense.
posted by EllenC at 3:14 PM on April 22, 2007

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