Japan hopes people drink more milk in New Year amid glut

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cartons of milk and a tote bag to carry them are sold at JR Mito Station on Dec. 28.

Getting people to drink milk during the New Year holidays has been an urgent matter this winter for dairy farmers, local governments and industry promotion groups across the country. Consumption is usually low at this time of year, with schools not in session, but the coronavirus pandemic has caused a further slowdown in demand, spurring fears that much of the milk produced will go to waste.

Late last month, Tomoe Dairy Processing Co., based in Koga, Ibaraki Prefecture, distributed without charge 10,000 cartons of milk at 200 milliliters each to local health workers, city officials and police officers.

“If people don’t buy milk, dairy farmers will go out of business,” said an executive managing director of the milk manufacturer and seller. “Everyone involved should make an effort.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Crates of milk delivered to the Koga city government office in Ibaraki Prefecture are seen on Dec. 27.

The company annually produces about 120 million liters of milk. Sales in winter are usually 20% lower than in spring and autumn, but this winter demand is falling further due to sluggish consumption at hotels and restaurants due to the pandemic.

Even so, dairy farmers are pumping milk as usual this winter because cows get sick if their udders are not milked daily. The company said it has been buying the same amount from dairy farmers as in a typical year.

An industry group in the prefecture that works to promote milk consumption held a special sales campaign at JR Mito Station during the year-end and New Year holidays. Four milk producers in the prefecture provided 1-liter cartons of milk, and a set of two cartons in an original tote bag was offered at ¥400.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mayor Koji Nagakubo, left, and town officials make a toast with milk in the town of Tohoku, Aomori Prefecture, on Dec. 28.

In the town of Tohoku, Aomori Prefecture, Mayor Koji Nagakubo and town officials made a toast with milk in hand, downing the beverage as they wished for increased milk consumption at a ceremony to mark the last business day of the year on Dec. 28.

“Agriculture is a key industry of our town,” Nagakubo said. “I have personally been involved in agriculture for many years and wanted to do something to help increase milk consumption.”

On Dec. 30, the Hokkaido government distributed free milk at a shop in Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The airport was crowded with people on their way to their hometowns for the New Year holidays.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hokkaido Deputy Gov. Shunsuke Tsuchiya gives free milk to passersby at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Dec. 30.

The prefecture prepared 1,000 cartons at 200 milliliters each of Hokkaido milk at the shop, which sells products from Hokkaido. Deputy Gov. Shunsuke Tsuchiya handed the milk to people passing by.

“Many people were pleased to receive it,” Tsuchiya said. “We want to avoid throwing away [milk] by all means.”