Unity and leadership are more important than ever in the dairy industry as anti-animal-agriculture groups pose a growing threat, Dairy Management Inc. CEO Tom Gallagher told more than 800 dairy farmers and industry representatives gathered for the 2019 joint annual meeting of the United Dairy Industry Association, National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and National Milk Producers Federation in New Orleans.
USDA data shows per-person dairy consumption has grown by 73 pounds since the dairy checkoff began in 1983. He said DMI’s mission is to not only grow sales but to build consumer trust by sharing how farmers care for their animals, land and employees.
But groups that oppose animal-based food production, he said, are looking to erode and eventually eliminate the checkoff, knowing it is the last line of defense between farmers and consumers.
“Make no mistake, they only have one goal: to eliminate all animal agriculture in this country,” Gallagher said. He said these groups seek to create a division among U.S. dairy farmers based on factors such as their size or production style and that they are “infiltrating consumer trust.”
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is your biggest issue,” Gallagher said. “Lab-grown (dairy alternatives) is going to come and we’ll deal with it. Plant-based beverages are here and they’ll have a share and we’ll deal with it.
“We’re done taking it,” he continued, urging farmers at the meeting to share these groups’ agenda with their peers around the country. “These anti-animal agriculture people aren’t going to defeat you.”
DMI President Barb O’Brien followed Gallagher with an overview of the unified marketing plan’s seven strategic areas to drive sales and trust. She said the collective efforts prove dairy remains a powerful category with more than $100 billion in annual retail sales and that household penetration of dairy is strong. She cited consumer research showing cheese is in 98% of U.S. homes and milk is in 94%.
“This puts to rest the naysayers’ claim that dairy is dead,” O’Brien said. “Dairy is alive and well and in households across the country.”
O’Brien provided an overview on the checkoff-led fluid milk revitalization work designed to address foundational elements of infrastructure, innovation and branded marketing.
“The issues facing milk are not about consumer awareness,” she said. “You can’t look at those household penetration numbers and say consumers aren’t aware of the category. The issues were more fundamental and required working with the middle of the chain, with co-ops, processors and retailers, who controlled the product and how it went into market.”
As a result of this work, O’Brien said there has been cumulative new product sales of 1.3 billion pounds of milk resulting from checkoff partnerships with companies such as Darigold, Shamrock, fairlife, Kroger and others. O’Brien emphasized the fluid milk work continues and said DMI is teaming with MilkPEP on an effort that is targeting the country’s top 10 retailers. Among its goals is to assure dairy’s rightful place in retail coolers across the country.
“What we want to do is represent (farmers) so you have a voice at the table,” said Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of DMI’s global innovation partnerships. “The competitors out there selling against milk are telling retailers to get rid of 4 feet of conventional milk space (in the dairy case), that it’s dead. We went in with Darigold and we met with Albertson’s and showed them the facts and how powerful milk is to them. We preserved our shelf space. That’s what we want to do, to make sure retailers understand the power of dairy.”
Checkoff partnerships such as McDonald’s also have been pivotal in moving more dairy. Divya Reddy, a DMI food scientist who works on site at McDonald’s headquarters, said the chain’s commitment to revitalize its McCafé line of specialty drinks has benefitted dairy farmers. She said 90% of McCafé beverages contain dairy and products such as lattes have more than 70% milk.
“Dairy is a key ingredient to McCafé,” she said. “We have seen year-over-year growth of fluid milk since the very successful relaunch of McCafé in 2017.”
O’Brien said this work has created a catalytic effect that has led to a 7% growth in milk-based coffee beverages across all of foodservice.
Reddy also shared that McDonald’s will be rolling out a 25% reduced-sugar, 1% chocolate milk nationwide in January that was developed with checkoff support.
As Gallagher concluded his presentation, he urged the need for all farmers, regardless of their size or farming style, to remain united.
“Unity doesn’t mean don’t question, don’t challenge, don’t ask the hard things,” he said. “This room represents thousands of farmers who have elected you to co-op boards, national milk boards, promotion boards. Yeah, let’s argue, let’s disagree, but let’s do it together and when we make a decision, let’s go and let’s not let the activists divide us. Through unity and leadership, we will secure a strong future for dairy.”