How Supermarkets Contributed To The Fall Of The Milkman

For many American families, milk delivery was once a staple service. Without refrigerators, ice boxes meant limited storage, and daily milk deliveries provided some guarantee of quality and freshness (via Food52). However, NPR reports that, by 2005 — the last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracked numbers — only .4% of milk was delivered to homes. Britain saw a similar phenomenon: Before World War I, milk was delivered three times each day; the number was reduced to two when the war broke out, and only one after the war ended (via Mirror).

BBC insists, "We shouldn't write off the milkman just yet," as London milk delivery businesses have experienced a spike in business. Parker Dairies' Depot Manager Paul Lough informed BBC's reporter, "We get a lot of love from the hipsters... people like the eco stuff, the glass bottles, the electric milk float and supporting a local business." American dairy companies have seen a similar surge in requests for milk delivery, says Modern Farmer; one Pennsylvania-based business now brings milk to hundreds of homes each week.

Fresh milk served straight from the farm — what's not to love? But what caused the disappearance of milk delivery to begin with?

A murky future for milk delivery

As recalled by Smithsonian Magazine, many factors contributed to the gradual disappearance of milk delivery: in-home refrigerators, the convenience of supermarkets, Americans moving to the suburbs, and more people owning cars. The milkman's job became increasingly more difficult and less profitable as delivery routes got longer, and costs began to reflect a greater demand on energy and resources. 

Unsurprisingly, the price of milk delivery mirrored these unavoidable changes, and milk drinkers decided to stock their own grocery store carts with milk to take home. Yet, as researchers from Portland State University have noted, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed buying behaviors, and Americans with higher incomes are more likely to order home delivery. Patrick Mueller, CEO of Milk & More, told CGTN that milk deliverers "are making a comeback because fundamentally the service is something that people love." Perhaps milk drinkers aren't done with the concept quite yet.