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Milk in bags ... Are Canadians weird, or are Americans the weirdos?

How come milk is sold in bags in Canada, but not in the U.S.?

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  1. Good question.
    I asked that a few months ago in a post and now I forgot what I was told.

    10 Replies
    1. re: monku

      False alarm...Canadiens were talking about a "Milk Calendar" and I was wondering what that was all about.

      I imagine milk in bags has to do with packaging convenience and weight. Someone is missing out on money to made in packaging milk in Canada.

      1. re: monku

        I think the official industry response is that bags are cheaper and keep the milk fresher than plastic jugs or cartons.

        If that's true, why not adopt it everywhere?

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I'm sure Canadiens think we're weird for putting our milk in jugs and containers.
          (all I know was I felt stupid asking what a milk calendar was)

          Growing up there was something about drinking milk from a cold glass bottle or wax carton. I think if you tried to drink it straight out of the bag it would be quite messy.

          1. re: monku

            Messy to drink out of the bag? Not at all. It's not like you are holding the bag directly in your hands. It's in a jug and you cut a hole in the corner of the bag. I drank from the bag many times when I lived with my parents. Now, 3 litres of milk is too much to buy at once, so we only have cartons.

            The bags are great to re-use for freezing stuff. They are heavier than a freezer bag.

            1. re: monku

              You're definitely weird if you call us 'Canadiens'. Unless you're speaking French, we're 'Canadians'.

              1. re: monku

                Ok so not all canaidens drink out of bags I'm from Alberta and I drink out of a jug

              2. re: ipsedixit

                Probably the possibility of loss, more likely that plastic bags will burst in transit than cartons or what not.

                I rarely see anyone buying these where I am in Canada btw. Most people I see are going with the cartons or the larger plastic jugs.

                I just wish they'd sell milk in glass here.

                1. re: im_nomad

                  By here, do you mean Maritimes? like Halifax?I only ask because I am pretty sure I have seen you post on that Board. If so, they do...I think it must be either Planet Organic or Pete's because I see glass bottles in my daughter's house and those are her only retailers except for HFX Market.

                  1. re: LJS

                    I'm in Nova Scotia, but not Halifax. I don't remember seeing glass milk bottles at Pete's though although I haven't been there lately.

            2. We're the weirdos. I am always in awe of alternative packaging in other countries. I was amazed at the array of vacume sealed boxes of milk in Mexico. I know a lot of parents who'd love to buy milk once a month rather than weekly like others buy soy milk.

              11 Replies
              1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                We've had that kind of milk in the US for at least 15 years.

                1. re: monku

                  Shelf-stable milk.

                  Borden is just one example in the U.S. (pic below)

                2. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                  Called UHT (ultra high temperature processing) milk introduced by Parmalat in the US in 1993.
                  Look for it on your grocers shelves not the refrigerated section.

                  1. re: monku

                    Yes, I know it is here in the US, but very hard to find where I live, at any rate I don't drink milk. Mexico had a lot of different brands in different sizes. No comparison to the US offerings.

                    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                      It's hard to find because that UHT never became a staple or popular here in the US since we have more access to fresh milk.

                      1. re: monku

                        It's in every grocery store I've been in in the NYC area. I use it because I don't drink milk at home and I need it for baking.

                        1. re: monku

                          It can be found in the baking aisle of most supermarkets next to the canned condendsed milk.

                          1. re: monku

                            People who do long cruises on sailboats use it. It is not my favorite, but it beats no milk or IMO - soy milk. Next time we do a longer cruise I am going to try almond milk. Also shelf stable.

                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                              people in hurricane and tornado and blizzard country keep it on hand, too -- for the same reason.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                sunshine, yup, we replace our "Hurricane stash" every year. We are thakful that we have not had to use it since "Opel" in '95 when we lived in the Panhandle, Seaside.

                                1. re: ospreycove

                                  2004. Nuf said.

                                  Actually it's a riot -- I now live in Europe, where UHT milk is more common than fresh -- but it comes in plastic bottles, rather than tetrapaks. I do keep it on hand for cooking -- and because I discovered by accident that my Nespresso makes better foam with the UHT milk than with fresh.

                    2. I live in Canada and I haven't seen milk in bags for years.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: maxinecs

                        I'm curious to know where in Canada you live. I'm in Toronto, and every grocery store has it in bags.

                        1. re: Sooeygun

                          Yesterday I even saw bagged milk at a Toronto Shopper's Drug Mart, of all places.

                          When I was a kid in the Maritimes, my mom always bought milk in bags. She would freeze it and thaw as needed.

                          1. re: Sooeygun

                            We don't have it here in BC either. I actually miss it. Don't ask me why.

                            1. re: toutefrite

                              Have not seen it in Alberta for years!

                              1. re: Zydecopapa

                                Ditto. I'm in Alberta and haven't seen milk in bags since '86. Had some friends whose parents bought it back then. We never did. It was always in the carton.

                                1. re: Zydecopapa

                                  Me, neither. Nor in Saskatchewan. Always just cartons or plastic jugs.

                                  I've seen milk in bags in many European countries, though. Pretty common.

                            2. re: maxinecs

                              They still sell it here where I am (I think - not a big milk buyer), but as I said above, I rarely see anyone buying it, or in their fridges. I remember having it as a child, there was a special jug for it, you'd cut the corner off etc.

                              EDIT: checked a local dairy http://www.scotsburn.com/Milk.htm
                              (4 litre milk in bags)

                              1. re: maxinecs

                                We still get it in bags in London, Ontario.

                                1. I know we can't be the only area buying milk that way in the U.S.. It seems to pour just fine out of the bag in their dedicated, white plastic pitchers, though when you are in a hurry, it seems like you can never find the scissors to snip the bag open to pour. Nothing else cuts quite right.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: buckthorne

                                    We had a special cutter that was designed specifically for milk bags that you could stick on the fridge with a magnet.

                                    The nice thing about milk bags is that you get the economy of large quantities, but it keeps fresh better than a big jug. And, as others have said, milk bags make great freezer bags - we never bought special bags for the freezer when I was a kid.

                                    Mind you, you should never go into a grocery store in the US and ask if they carry 4L bags of Homo milk.....

                                  2. I had no idea Canadians purchased milk like that. I remember when I was in elementary school our school lunches suddenly switched from milk in cartons to milk in single serve bags, which we all had fun with for a while after we discovered what happens when you pierce the bag with the straw while squeezing the contents.

                                    BTW - Doing a Google Image Search for 'Canadian Milk Bags' produces results that are far more PG than I would have guessed.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                                      the Kwik-Trip chain of convenience stores in the upper Midwest has an in-house dairy (and a good one!) -- and they package ALL their milk in bags.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Ditto for the Quality Dairy convenience store chain in the mid-Michigan area.

                                      2. re: TuteTibiImperes

                                        To put this in historical perspective, the milk served in our military chowhall circa 1965 was in big...BAGS. The bags were inside rectangular cardboard boxes with a plastic tube that could be fitted into the chowhall milk dispensers.

                                        1. re: Mayor of Melonville

                                          Lol, I was just going to say that when I was a kid in the 70s/80s, my mom, who worked for the military, would bring home big multi-gallon bags of milk ... which she stole from the mess hall supply, no foolin'. We'd keep it in the fridge with a fork twisted around the spout to crimp it.

                                          I always thought that must be how milk is dispensed in restaurant supply, too.

                                      3. As a kid in the 70's, we used to somtimes get bagged milk from a local farmer in PA. I thought it was strange yet interesting and really good ( the novelty I'm sure played into that). I just assumed it had to do with it being a small dairy farm operation.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: lynnlato

                                          I remember relatives getting bagged milk too. The bags fit into a rectangular plastic pitcher.

                                          1. re: cleobeach

                                            Yep, exactly. Although we didn't have one of those pitchers, which were designed specifically for bagged milk, so we just clipped off a corner and poured it into a traditional pitcher.

                                            1. re: lynnlato


                                              is this the place? I grew up on this milk and was sad when they switched over from the plastic bags
                                              )(doh i'm asking a question on a response from years ago!)

                                          2. re: lynnlato

                                            I remember milk in bags in the 1970s. It was after glass bottles were phased out and before they switched to blow-molded plastic jugs.

                                            The bag fitted into a special pitcher.

                                          3. I don't know maybe an anatomical (mildly funny) reason, milk come from bags and not cartons. :-)

                                            maybe it was more economical to buy from bags instead of cartons.

                                            A fun fact (anecdotal) is that we (me and my family) never bought bags but cartons and we bought butter, and all the people who we knew bought milk in bags bought margarine instead of butter..

                                            1. I don't know the answer to your question, but upon thinking of it, I'm surprised that there hasn't been a market for the larger commercial-type plastic milk bag, as used in cafeterias etc, but perhaps a bit smaller (like boxed wine).

                                              I know families who go through a 2 liter of milk every day or so. I think a 5 litre box / bag combo would be useful for a lot of people if they updated the packaging a little.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                I realize there's a difference between industrial-sized restaurant service supply, but in many restaurants I've worked in in the States, milk for the (pull-arm) machine was delivered in huge bags that were placed in the machine, upright, snipped at the corner, and connected to the tube that led to the outside of the machine. Only place I've seen it in bags here, though; other shelf-stable milk is sold in cartons on the non-refrigerated shelf.

                                              2. Milk is not sold in bags everywhere in Canada. It is sold in bags and cartons in Ontario. In Manitoba, it is sold in cartons and 4L jugs. I can not speak for the other provinces as I have only lived in Manitoba and Ontario.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: salsailsa

                                                  In Quebec milk is also available in bags, 1 and 2 liters cartons are also available, but no 4L plastic jugs

                                                  1. re: salsailsa

                                                    alberta here.i havent seen bags in a while.i usually get cartons.

                                                    1. re: howlin

                                                      It's about the only thing I miss about Ontario - I moved to Alberta in 1999 and still wish I could get bagged milk. That and cheaper cereal and pizza...

                                                      1. re: Dan G

                                                        I live in the GTA area in Ontario and most milk in the grocery stores are 4 litre bags and 1 and 2 litre cartons, from the refrigerator section. No jugs. The jugs are reserved for the corner convenience store such is Mac's Milk (ironically). There are also shelf-stable "cartons" of milk in the grocery aisle. The bags are quite durable, and the milk lasts a long time. And, don't quote me on this, but I remember years ago when the jugs were the norm in Ontario, that people used to put gasoline and other things in the jugs and then return them for their deposit. Eech! I thought that had something to do with the switch to bags (cost of recycling) as well as a little more environmentally friendly. Glass bottles are 1 litre sizes and usually available in the Organic section.
                                                        (and to stay on topic of the original post - I am American-born living in Ontario - so I guess both are weird ;o)

                                                  2. Canada: It's Slightly Different.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                      1. re: mamachef

                                                        That it is. Milk has been sold in bags in Ontario since what, the '80s? My mom used to freeze it so she could always have some on hand. V convenient and less wasteful packaging.

                                                      1. "Milk in bags ... Are Canadians weird, or are Americans the weirdos? "

                                                        These options are not mutually exclusive. :-)

                                                        1. Ips---
                                                          I never saw this in Canada, but most of my time there is in Montreal and Nova Scotia,
                                                          BUT This was the standard packaging when I lived in ISRAEL the summer of 1974. The bags would be delivered to our house in the back of an unrefrigerated pickup truck. I saw this arrive and refused to drink milk. My aunt (with whom I was staying) would take all but 2 bags and put them in the refrigerator, 2 bags would be left in the pantry to sour. Israel was a land of limited resources. Trees were not harvested to make cardboard cartons and glass was expensive. Lastly, appliances were smaller Euro-sized, not like the gigantic North America variety and space in the fridge was limited.

                                                          1. Americans seem to think that everything American is normal and anything otherwise is odd.
                                                            Having a monster refrigerator in the kitchen and maybe another in the basement next to the freezer chest is not the norm for most of the world.
                                                            In most places you will find milk in smaller containers that does not have to be refrigerated until the container is opened. It has a very long shelf life. It's "super" pasteurized, I think??
                                                            I've seen small containers in my local supermarket by Parmalat. We don't use much milk in our home so I keep a couple of these in the pantry for the odd times we need real milk. It has a shelf life of about a year.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Motosport

                                                              I respectfully suggest that it's human nature to think that the way one's own group does things is normal and that anything else is odd.

                                                            2. When I moved to Canada, my father had to explain the milk bag phenomenon to me. The concept of buying a milk pitcher was one of the few truly foreign aspects of moving across the border. Dad (who worked an entire career for USDA as a dairy economist) said it was a concept that "never caught on" in the States. In fact, I think it was the rare concept that never caught on ANYWHERE but Canada...Europeans, Mexicans, etc. didn't go for it either. Since your ~gallon of milk is portioned into three smaller bags, and the unopened bags are stored in a larger opaque bag, the milk lasts longer than our jugs. This is more cost-effective for singles or couples, who take longer to go through 4L of milk. However...Americans like the familiar plastic jug, and Europeans have their own ways of distributing milk with a longer shelf-life. Changing format is a hard sell, and..well...it didn't.

                                                              1. When I lived in Ecuador in the late 80s, it was either a liter bag off the shelf at a large market or dipped out of a bucket from a guy who went door to door selling that day's milk. I opted for the bag.

                                                                1. I've not been to Canada, but in China milk comes in smaller plastic or foil-lined pouches. One pouch is usually enough to pour a tall glass and they do not need to be refrigerated. It seems a more sensible option than buying a gallon jug which needs to be refrigerated and even then spoils quickly.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                    When I was in Seoul they had the foil lined pouches too.

                                                                  2. When I was in highschool (mid-late 1990's) the cafeteria switched from 8 oz. cartons of milk to 8 oz. bags. At that point in my school lunch career I was bringing in my own can of soda and buying Domino's pizza buy the slice, so I never had milk from a bag, but it was strange to see others stabbing clear plastic bags with a straw. The bags didn't stick around long - they were difficult to drink from without pouring into a cup, so no practical for school cafeterias.

                                                                    Random sort of on topic thought - one of my most enduring memories from 6th grade history/geography is watching a film on Siberia and seeing a woman carry milk as a giant frozen slab - no need for a bag!

                                                                    1. If I was ONLY answering the question, not the actual post, re: who is stranger? I would quote a poem by some unknown random person:
                                                                      "Everyone is strange but thee and me,
                                                                      And sometimes I wonder, about thee."
                                                                      : )
                                                                      That's what I love about bein' a human bein. We are all different, wonderful, strange, eccentric, magical and wacky in our own ways, and forums like this give us a chance to learn about each other.

                                                                      1. I don't know when they started in Canada, but I was buying milk in bags in the early 1970s in Germany.

                                                                        1. We had school milk in bags. They got rid of th cartons. For orang juice too...you simply poked a straw right through the middle of it....although we would blow them up like ballons and pop them afterwards

                                                                          1. I don't live in Canada but it seems to me that if cows have been carrying the stuff around in bags for millions of years, there must be something to it!

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. How come cheese is sold in cans in the U.S, but not in Canada?

                                                                              Who's calling whom weird now? Ha ha.

                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                              1. re: prima

                                                                                that's not cheese, actually, that's "pasteurised processed cheese food".


                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  Haha, pasteurized processed cheese food. I once heard a comedian say, "that must be what the cheese EATS."

                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    Cougar Gold is sold in a can and it's definitely a real cheese. And yummy, too!


                                                                                    1. re: tracylee

                                                                                      I wonder if Cougar Gold is particularly popular with middle-aged women...

                                                                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                        Bahahaha! That one took me a minute. Here and I was feeling a bit insulted, being middle-aged and all~

                                                                                        1. re: tracylee

                                                                                          My father has a good friend who is a third generation resident of Spokane. He's a WSU alumn and givew my dad a can Cougar Gold every Christmas. That is some of the best sharp cheese I have ever eaten.

                                                                                2. No. But from a NY point of view; Milk is better off served in cartons because they are less likely to bust open. Though bags are more environmentally friendly when coming home from the store they can burst open and soak everything in the bag with it and breaking the plastic bag itself.

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Josh10501

                                                                                    Bags leak in handling at retail. It's common.

                                                                                    A quick inspection in the aisle tells us if we have a leaker - grab the bag and squeeze it gently (Gawd, I'm going back to tugging teats in the barn).

                                                                                    I have never heard of a bag bursting open. I'm not saying it never happens(ed).

                                                                                    1. re: DockPotato

                                                                                      the ones from Kwik Trip in Wisconsin need a pretty stout pair of scissor...I'm sure they've had one burst, but it would have to be a pretty extreme condition.

                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                        We have quite a few Kwik Trip stores in Minnesota and they are the only place I have seen milk in plastic bags.

                                                                                        (Are you living in Wisconsin now, which area?)

                                                                                        1. re: John E.

                                                                                          Nope, not in Wisconsin -- but lots of family there, so we're fairly regular visitors.

                                                                                  2. Drinking the milk of another mammal is weird.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: DockPotato

                                                                                        My mother breastfed me.
                                                                                        She was Human also.

                                                                                        By "another" I meant "other-than-human".

                                                                                        1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                          most of the Western world gives cows' milk to their young. Hardly weird.

                                                                                    1. haha! this board is hilarious! I live in Canada and I remember my American cousins thinking it was SO weird that our milk came in bags.

                                                                                      They also sell cartons now, and I believe the cartons make the milk taste fresher.

                                                                                      Also, it is a pain to go through a bag of milk and have to keep replacing it (especially when in a family of 5 people)

                                                                                      Anyways. Hilarious discussion board!

                                                                                      1. Growing up in Columbus,Ohio in the late 60s, the milkman would bring a five gallon cardboard milk carton every week and put it right in the fridge. It had a bag of milk inside, and a spigot on the front.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                                                          In the early 60s we got a similar 2.5 gallon box with bag delivered by Borden's each week. The spigot always leaked. Mom stopped it after about 6 months. Restaurants and commercial accounts get the 5 gallon bag in box for the stainless refrigerated milk dispensers

                                                                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                                                                            I haven't seen one of those in years. Made me smile.

                                                                                        2. Y'all are way too young...

                                                                                          The milkman always delivered the glass bottles to the back door...every day or so...we left the empties out there for him to take.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: fcbaldwin

                                                                                            We had a milkman until I was in high school. I don't remember the glass bottles. I do remember gallon cartons which had a special handle to make it easier to pour. Our milkman was named Rusty and he came twice a week. If nobody was home he would let himself in and put the milk in the refrigerator. If my mother wanted anything else she would leave a note on the refrigerator.

                                                                                          2. You know I think diversity creates dimension in the world just like me and my biological father look nothing like he has blonde hair and blue eyes I have brown hair and brown eyes but yet even though I look more like my mother I'm personally closer to my father in many different ways and factors and it's not just Canadians that drink milk out of a bag lots of people do

                                                                                            1. Oh, this is quite common in China. Walnut milk and jujube milk were a common sight in my fridge...and on my floor. Sticking a straw into those little buggers was a pill.

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                                the bags in Canada are big -- 1 litre or thereabouts.

                                                                                                No single-serve straw-punching.

                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  I remember my parents buying milk in the bag back in the '70s. Haven't seen it for years. While plastic is lighter, I miss the glass bottles. On the other hand, one of my local stores identifies from where my milk comes from. (It's part of their campaign to assist us in buying and supporting our local farmers.). So my favorite milk, Sassy Cow, comes from a farm about an hour north of me.

                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                    In Israel there are the big bags as well as small single serving bags especially for flavored milks (chocolate/strawberry). Though instead of a straw the usual method of consumption is just to tear off a corner of the bag and drink it that way.

                                                                                                2. I'm following this and have just realised how brilliant our bags are.

                                                                                                  I haven't studied it it, but I'm sure 3 litre-pouches encased in plastic film require less material than a jug. Our jugs, where available, are reused (Or are they now? I know we used to be charged and credited 25 cents for the container.) so waste savings may be a wash, but handling, transport, effort and expense with the containers are all eliminated.

                                                                                                  We are only the two of us and go through 3 litres in just over a week, so a 3 litre jug might just go off during that period. The smaller bags keep a long time if we happen to be gone for any length of days.

                                                                                                  The smaller bags are easily managed in our fridge.

                                                                                                  I seldom set foot in them so can anyone tell me if Mac's or Beckers still sell jugs here in Canada? They were known as "Jug Milk Stores" because of cheap milk in their holdout jugs.

                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: DockPotato

                                                                                                    Each bag is 1.33 liters, 4l total in the package of 3.

                                                                                                    1. re: C70

                                                                                                      4 litres, 3 bags - well you know... my math skill are eroding and I still think in pounds and quarts. Thanks for the correction.

                                                                                                  2. As noted in usa the milk in 1.3L bags, its unusual to have them there in the stores, seems consumers were reluctant to buy milk in baggies as opposed to cartons or the plastic jug, why, for a varity of reasons...even when you tell them about how much less room it takes up in the fridge, how easy it is for youngsters to pour & drink milk on their own, along withrecyclability of the baggies and how much easier it is as opposed to cartons or plastic jugs, and their comments "if ya dont like the jusgs theen dont buy them"...really try & be inovative and you get that... talk about cutting ones nose off to spite their face...sad...truth be told the equipment to do this in the bottling plant is far less expensive than conventinal equip as well.

                                                                                                    1. Well every time I buy milk in the grocery store they ask if I want it in a bag but I say 'No - just leave it in the jug."

                                                                                                      1. Well, seeing as the cow stores it in a bag.......

                                                                                                        1. Yikes!Thats weird milk sold in Bags in Canada?I wouldn't want to purchase Milk in a Bag.Thank goodness for Cartoons and plastic gallons.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: Smiley881

                                                                                                            what is it, exactly, that you think the plastic bag does to the milk that a plastic jug doesn't do?

                                                                                                          2. An interesting discussion. It confirms my own experience that bagged milk inspires a surprising amount of interest. I'm American, married to a Canadian. Over the years many of my Canadian friends and relatives have asked me about the milk in bags. I always reply that I've never seen it in the US, but that it might exist in some regions. And now, thanks to this discussion, I know that in some parts of the US one can buy milk in bags, and that in some parts of Canada one can't.

                                                                                                            I suppose the fascination stems from the fact that milk is one of the few staple food products that are handled so differently in different places. But why, I wonder, do some "milk in bag" people almost seem to resent the absence of bags elsewhere? I completely understand the efficiency of space and packaging, and I see why those who are used to bags would be frustrated if they could no longer buy milk that way. But why so much discussion of why "they" don't use milk in bags?

                                                                                                            I would be fascinated to know how the bags were marketed when they first came out. Was there a (really effective) campaign that somehow made people zealous milk-bag devotees?