Same Glass Of Milk, Very Different Prices

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.

  • Mike

    I feel sorry for my co-workers who buy gallons of milk for their children and themselves. It is a big bite of their weekly grocery bill.

  • Vicky Gustafson

    You might check out the laws in Minnesota for the price of milk. There’s a minimum milk price that retailers may charge, and I suspect that low price is below that minimum wage. The regulation is in place across the USA in an attempt to even out the cost to those who can get milk raised locally and those raised longer distances away. Several larger retailers have been caught unawares on this one, and they’ve been fined in the past. Usually, they charge the lower prices for a while before it catches the eyes of the regulators.

  • Vicky Gustafson

    Sorry, I wrote quickly. That was supposed to read: ” I suspect that lowest price you cit is below the minimum price.” (not minimum wage)

  • central minnesota

    The price of milk is out of control. For my family, we use whole milk. At $5.49 a gallon, six gallons a week. That is alot of money.

    • Joe

      Why in the world are you drinking whole milk??? Except for children under age 2, no one should be drinking whole milk. For dietary reasons, 2% is the max, 1% is better, skim is best.

      • central minnesota

        There is nothing wrong with whole milk. We used to drink it streight from the bulk tank. But not to many milk farmers around here anymore.

  • lele

    What a mess of an article. The author did not disclose how many milk brands they tasted, what were all the brands tested, where they bought them, the prices they paid, and how many people were in the panel! Also, we did not get a final tally of how all the different milk brands fared with all the tasters. This is a very poor written article. As a consumer, I cannot make an informed decision with this type of information. Hope next time, you will do a better job.

    • Bill

      Amen amen amen…

  • rimale

    In the Fargo/Moorhead area our milk prices are way more !! What is up with that ??

    • Easy answer

      Because of the high winds commonly found in the area, cows spill more milk onto the ground. The shepherds still need to make a buck, so they charge a little more to make up for the spilled milk.

  • sw MN

    Milk in the Twin Cities area has been at least a dollar a gallon cheaper than in rural sw MN for years. I buy at least 10 gallons a week. That computes to over $500 a year difference. Who says that the cost of living in a rural area is cheaper? It’s terrible that the price differences can be so drastic on a staple product.

    • Bill

      Sorry, but my experience between rural and urban is completely the opposite. Milk in rural areas is far cheaper, simply because you live close enough to the farms that you can purchase it directly from them (be in legally or otherwise–it’s available). Or, if you’re like many rural residents, you live directly on the farm already–in which case, the cost of milk is simply a trip to the barn to dip a pitcher out of the tank. Either way, no one in the city can touch those prices.

      • Sarah

        Sorry, but what kind of la la land are you living in? Where is this experience of your coming from? Do you seriously think most people living in rural MN live on or near dairy farms? And buy milk directly from the farm? What century do you think we live in? You are the epitome of the term “citiot”.

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  • Candy Ellman Johannes

    I think the ad for this was better than the article itself. It didn’t say anything at all. Nor that why would I make a special trip to get milk cheaper? Stupid idea. And I didn’t see any other stores included in this either?

  • Bill

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

    Not true! There are differences in the taste of milk, and even moreso for cheese–but it has nothing to do with the price paid. Instead, it’s related to things like:
    –breed of cow. Holsteins produce greater volume, which is why they’re most common, but Guernseys and Jerseys will produce a creamier, and to many people’s tongues, a better tasting milk
    –feed mixture. Different diets cause changes in milk flavor. More grain usually results in more–and higher quality–cream.
    –feed source. Cows fed hay produced from north of the reaches of the Wisconsin glaciation 20,000 years ago tend to produce a smoother “silkier” milk, while cows fed hay from south of there tend to produce a grainier, “nuttier” milk. These differences become especially noticeable in cheeses produced from milks from these regions, particularly Swiss cheese.

    Now, do any dairies separate these? Nope–or at least, none which produce milk for stores in any appreciable volume. But if you travel from region to region, you can definitely detect the differences!

  • Dave

    Well put Bill. I was disappointed with this news article. WCCO staffers doing a taste test is not scientific without the valid points Bill made above. CVS had the milk on sale for the entire month of October. The low price was given if you were a CVS card member. What is the price at Sam’s or Costco if your a member there? Super America has Skim and 2% gallons usually 2/$5.00. Why did Jaime Yuccas pick 1%? Because it would show a more dramatic difference. Why not show all of the prices by fat level? The price of milk is set by the government. Farmer Berning says that it’s confusing the way that price is set. There’s a “Good Question” How does the government set the price of milk to processors monthly? So what was the point of this news story? The hardtimes of the Minnesota farmer? A taste testing of milk brands? The different prices retailers charge for milk? Will we see an article like this on the price of soda pop next week? Bread? Produce? Jaime, stories like this may have worked in Florida but not for CCO’ viewers.

  • clarence

    Bill made good points on the taste of milk. I would think the dairies would have control/knowledge of what their suppliers feed their herds, and the types of cows in those herds to give dairy have a consistent taste.

    Looking further into this situation, a couple of years ago we were buying milk (skim, calorie reasons for adults) from Rainbow/Roundys because of convenience. I noticed an “off” taste, sort of between fresh milk and UHT. By
    experiment we changed to Target (Roseville) to avoid the taste problem. That went well until last year about this time and we noticed Target changed their supplied (container shape changed). Shortly after we noticed the same
    taste problem with their milk.

    I got to cheking into this using the dairy identification codes (all dairies have a code to track their products in case of a problem and its printed on the conainers). Google “where does my milk come from” to get a list, and what
    you find may surprise you. The first two digits identify the state and “27” is Minnesota. Roundys, Kemps and Target all came from 27-168, a likely cause for the same taste.

    To followy my problem taste I went to Cub on Rice and Hwy 36 as I recalled they carried Land-O-Lakes milk. That brand, and the Cub brand there came from 27-180 which is actually Deans Dairy in Woodbury. No taste problem. The
    LOL products at Walgreens, Wal Mrt, Byerlys Roseville and CVS also come from 27-180, and even have been seen in Deans carriers.

    However, for example, the Har Mar Cub does not carry LOL, but Kemps and the Cub brand there comes from the same place as Kemps, 27-168.

    The last two gallons of 27-180 we purchases (mid spetember on) (one Wal Mart, one Byerlys) seem to have some of the off taste. To see if its me or the product I tried some milk from Schroeder Dairy, 27-145, (now owned by Agropur, a Canadian Agriculture conglomerate) physically located on Rice street a few blocks from the Cub (?) which only seems to be available at convenience stores at a ridiculous price). That seems to be OK on taste. More testing to do here.

    Another interesting exercise is to look at milk at a single store, for example, Byerlys Roseville. There are three varieties, all from 27-180, all in the same shaped conainers, all hormone free. The bottom end is $2.79 and the container is translucent. The next one is the Byerlys brand for $3.19 and its container is an almost opaque white. On top is Land-O-lakes at $3.49 in a container identical to Byerlys brand. I’m a bit suspicious that the milk that went into all three came from the same spigot and I would really like to know if/what the difference is for 70 cents/gallon. Is this deceptive advertising (remember a few years ago when they caught 8 O’Clock Coffe putting the same beans in both the cheap and expensive containers?)

  • Kitty

    I would really like to know why prices for milk differ from Target stores. Milk is almost $ a gal in St Cloud, but Minneaapolis newspaper ads advertise it for under $3! That’s a big difference for 1 store!

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