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Consumer

Same Glass Of Milk, Very Different Prices

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Got milk? You’re probably paying a lot more for it than last year.

But WCCO tracked the price for more than a month and discovered you could be paying twice as much depending on where you shop and what brand you buy. We began tracking the costs at the farms.

Mark Berning’s cows provide milk to thousands of Minnesotans. He says his costs are going up.

“My fuel cost is higher than what it was last year. My feed cost has gone up almost double what it was last year,” said Berning. “That cost goes to the consumer.”

Berning says when his milk heads to the processor, it gets all mixed together with milk from other farms, labeled and shipped to stores.

“Milk is milk. If you go to the store and buy 1 percent milk, you’re going to get 1 percent milk,” said Berning, “but the pricing of milk is very complicated.”

WCCO tracked the price of a gallon of 1 percent milk at five different stores, randomly, for five weeks. From a convenience store to grocery stores to the drugstore, the prices ranged anywhere from $2 to $4. In one instance the gap was that wide on the same brand of milk at two different places.

“Staple products attract people to come in, and then they charge us a lot for other things,” said University of Minnesota Professor Marin Bozic. “Say a store draws you in for cheap milk. Once you’re in, you’ll buy cookies, sandwiches, and bring more money to the store.”

Bozic says the higher prices work another way, too. If you’re buying in a hurry, it may be the only thing you buy once inside.

To the farmer, the prices don’t impact quality.

“If it’s 1 percent milk, it’s 1 percent milk,” said Berning. “It’s got the same nutritional value as any other 1 percent milk you know.”

Can consumers tell the difference? We put a few WCCO workers to a taste test. On our test day, Super America’s Land O’ Lakes — which was the most expensive at $3.89 a gallon — was chosen as a favorite by only one person. One member of the panel hated it.

Everyone else chose the middle of the road $2.79 Minnesota Creamery brand from Byerly’s.

People didn’t find any issue with the least expensive from CVS at $2.29 with an in-store coupon, but they didn’t love it either.

Berning said he thinks the differences are all in our taste testers’ heads.

“Typically, on average, milk will leave my farm and be in the store in two days,” he said, suggesting it should have the same flavor and shelf life.

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