So I try and think but don’t have much more to add about Borden dairy except for two quick points. Dairy is just more than milk and cream, it’s also cheeses and yogurts and stuff. That’s where some dairy companies are successful, where brand recognition counts, like yogurts and cheese. What are you gonna buy? Yucky store brand yogurt or the sugary brand name stuff your kids love, the low fat brand name stuff that your spouse loves, and that super rich European stuff that you love? Same question for cheese. Yeah, there are store brand options, but the name brands, especially the artisan stuff, that’s what people want.
Warning!!! Sappy story time follows. Don’t read if you don’t want sappy story time or hate applewood’s sappy feelings.
kleinbl00’s article talked about the number of dairy farms that have failed, I don’t want to retype the number, it’s so scary it feels like it’s cursed. It's so scary, I forget a lot of what I wanted to say about Borden and started moping about milk. A lot of people keep on talking about whether or not a recession is coming and I’m really starting to pay attention to food prices again because I’ve seen how this plays out, first hand, with milk.
I worked in grocery in 2007-2008. I don’t know if you guys remember that time and food and all, but it was really scary. I worked in a mom and pop grocery store back then, and I don’t remember the food crisis that well, but I think the milk rushes will forever be in my mind. Let me try and paint a picture.
I don’t know how big box grocery stores work, but I assumed they’d get their milk with the rest of their shipments (where they get their boxed goods, dry goods, etc.). We didn’t, because we were a small grocery store, we worked with a small regional dairy. So we would get our milk in through direct delivery. Also because we were small, we couldn’t buy as much milk as big box grocery stores, so our milk was more expensive and it never really went on sale. It wasn’t that more expensive by much, mind you, but it was enough that people didn’t buy milk from us unless they needed to. We sold a lot of pop though, because it was constantly on sale and even when it wasn’t, it was cheaper than milk. A 2 liter of pop was like, $.89 and a half gallon of milk was like, $1.89.
We would get these customers that had WIC slips, which were kind of like food stamps, but they were only for certain items and the items couldn’t go above a price. There was always a lot of wriggle room, like two or three dollars worth of wiggle room for milk, for example. I thought it was weird, until milk prices started fluctuating. Soon, WIC didn’t give enough room to cover all of the cost of milk.
I remember leaving the store one night, coming in the next night, and the price of milk jumped by over two dollars. Two dollars, in twenty four hours, like gas jumped. Customers were so angry about that. They kept on asking over and over and over “Why did the price of milk jump? What happened?” I don’t know. I just work here. I don’t set the prices. I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do about it.
This happened a lot. The price would jump, then it would slowly drop down, then when it was a reasonable price again, it would jump again, and the whole cycle would start over. I started to dread the price jumps.
What I hated more though, was when big box stores would put their milk on sale. It would only be one or two different chains, but as soon as they did, they’d sell out almost immediately. People would hoard milk like they would hoard water and bread before a storm. Then people would go to other big box stores and buy them out, then before you know it, they’d come to our store, because we’re the only ones around who still had milk, and they’d buy it full price. “Did you hear? Big John’s grocery is all sold out. You’re one of the only places that still has milk left. I drove twenty miles just to get it.” As soon as I heard that, I knew I’d be in for a long day with questions like “Why aren’t you price matching Big John’s Grocery? You’re trying to fleece us! I don’t care if your milk is a different brand!” “Why are you guys setting limits for milk? You never set limits on anything! Who limits food? This is un-American!”
There were other price problems too, like each time we got cereal the boxes would have less cereal by weight, but would sell for the same price. Bread prices were crazy. We had trouble filling orders and then we had trouble stocking shelves because people started shopping where it was cheaper and then people got more angry because we had less food and it cost more where I worked. It was bad all around. I don't remember all of that as well, but I'll never forget the milk rushes. It boggles the mind the amount of emotion involved in a single item. People had a right to be angry and I understood why, but it didn’t make being the focus of their anger and frustration easier, even though I knew it wasn’t personal.
I remember these days and they were emotional roller coasters. Back then, America felt like it was in a better shape, like we had more jobs and more money and more flexibility and less rent before the crash. Now we have none of that. If things are worse now, and things crash, what’s gonna happen? Food is precious and our food network is fragile and I don’t think people really sit up and take notice until it’s too late. I think it’s really important that we start noticing, because well, I don’t want to see what “too late” looks like this time around because it’s gonna be worse.
I knew dairy was hurting. I know soy is hurting. I know agriculture in general is hurting right now. I didn’t know how bad it was until I saw the numbers in kleinbl00’s article though. Now I’m pretty scared and I don’t know if there’s really anything I can do.