Milk Carton Shortage Still Prevalent, Expected to Last Through School Year

Feb 15, 2024
Students enjoying milk in schools.

A shortage of paper-based milk cartons, which is the primary packaging for school milk, is expected to last through the end of the 2023-2024 school year. Relief for certain milk types may come sooner, though, as production capacity is expected to increase in March. 

In October 2023, the dairy community began experiencing a nationwide milk carton shortage after a major manufacturer of paper-based milk cartons closed one of their primary manufacturing facilities. The decreased supply of milk cartons was unable to meet increased demand for school milk as states like Colorado and New Mexico implemented free meals for all students, also known as Healthy School Meals for All.

While not back to original volume, carton supply is currently greater than at the depths of the shortage, largely because the manufacturer has increased output from other facilities. To try to get ahead of the supply issues, the manufacturer ran at maximum capacity through the holidays, a time when demand is diminished because of school closures. 

As an efficiency, the manufacturer is printing cartons with a generic label rather than brand-specific labels, and 1% white and fat-free chocolate milk packaging is being prioritized. Generic labels for more milk types are also in process, according to the manufacturer. Milk processors in the Dairy MAX region have not reported receiving these generic cartons yet.

To proactively protect the small supply of milk cartons, some processors began fulfilling school milk orders for school districts in Texas, mainly in the Rio Grande Valley, with shelf-stable milk. Companies that process shelf-stable milk, namely Diversified Foods Inc., have been able to fill some of the supply gaps due to products they had stored before the shortage.

Dairy MAX, in partnership with Dairy Management Inc., has been working with schools and industry partners within its eight-state region to ensure students continue to have access to nutrient-rich milk during the school day. Further, Dairy MAX has acted as a conduit of information for its industry partners to ensure they have the latest information so they can make the best decisions possible to tackle the shortage.

Dairy MAX is committed to continued work with partners throughout the supply chain to minimize the impact of the carton shortage on students, school districts, processors and our dairy farm families.