Global demand for liquid milk is at a record high and poised for further expansion, despite the effects of the economic recession.

According to a new Dairy Index report from food packaging company Tetra Pak, total world consumption of liquid dairy products reached 258bn litres last year – up 1.6% on 2007.

Most of this growth has been in the so-called “emerging markets”, with India, Pakistan, China and the Middle East showing the greatest gains on the back of expanding populations, rising incomes and dietary changes.

For example, 13% more liquid milk was consumed in China from 2005 to 2008, reaching a record of 27bn litres last year.

The Tetra Pak report also points to continued global expansion of 2.2% a year for the next three years

“Despite the global economic crisis, consumption of liquid dairy products is expected to continue to grow steadily over the next three years, with emerging markets driving much of this growth,” says chief executive Dennis Jonsson.

But there is also likely to be some trading down, especially in the more mature developed world markets.

“In today’s difficult economic climate, we anticipate that most consumers may go back to basics,” says senior marketing executive Michael Zacka, “for example, substituting white milk for more value-added products, or choosing budget brands instead of more premium brands.”

Tetra Pak also anticipates stronger growth in the consumption of packaged milk, especially UHT milk, which does not require refrigeration.