Checkoff foodservice partners continued to grow sales of U.S. dairy foods and more domestic dairy headed into the international marketplace. There also were increased efforts to connect with the valued Gen Z consumer and dairy’s sustainability journey reached new levels.
These and other results are some of Dairy Management Inc.’s top checkoff highlights from 2021.
Despite a year with continued COVID-19 challenges, the dairy checkoff delivered on its mission to drive sales and trust, said president and CEO Barbara O’Brien, who succeeded Tom Gallagher in October.
“We not only adapted to the pandemic’s realities, we used it as an opportunity to become even more consumer-centric and more efficient and collaborative,” O’Brien said. “We were more determined to address the challenges facing dairy head on, and we found new growth opportunities across the dairy category.
“Through it all, we were able to showcase farmers being an essential part of the U.S. food system. It was a year where the dairy checkoff made every drop count.”
O’Brien pointed to the continued success of the checkoff’s foodservice partnerships with globally recognized companies Domino’s, Taco Bell and McDonald’s. She said overall dairy sales at these chains grew anywhere from 3 percent to 6 percent this year.
Some partnership highlights from 2021 include:
• Checkoff scientists at Taco Bell’s headquarters helped the chain launch the Mtn Dew Baja Blast Colada Freeze, which features a dairy-based creamer. The team also helped Taco Bell relaunch the Quesalupa, which uses seven times more cheese than the chain’s regular taco.
• Domino’s met consumers’ needs with new cheesy marinara and five-cheese dips paired with parmesan or garlic twists.
• McDonald’s featured McFlurries in consumer promotions that grew additional dairy sales.
International sales growth
The partnership model that has worked so well domestically found more footing internationally. Selling more dairy into foreign markets is important to U.S. dairy farmers as 1 of every 6 tankers of milk heads into the international marketplace. Also, 96 percent of the world’s population lives outside the U.S. and people are adopting a Western diet and have a taste for American cuisine, including cheese.
In June, DMI entered a partnership with Alamar Foods Company, which owns 455 Domino’s stores in the MENAP (Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan) region. DMI’s partnership will focus on about 300 locations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a goal of increasing U.S. cheese sales.
For Pizza Hut, the focus in Asia-Pacific was driving value promotions in support of takeout and delivery across key markets in the region, including Japan, Korea and Indonesia. To date, U.S. cheese growth across Asia-Pacific has more than doubled since the on-set of the partnership. Also, Domino’s Japan launched two menu items featuring U.S. cheese – the Jumbo Pizza and the Pizza Rice Bowl. This innovation combines a familiar Japanese dish with the toppings of pizza. Since the beginning of the DMI/Domino’s Japan partnership in 2019, U.S. cheese volume at the chain has doubled.
Further growth of U.S. dairy sales internationally is being achieved through the checkoff-founded U.S. Dairy Export Council. Through October, total U.S. dairy exports were up 11 percent from the same period a year earlier and remain on a record pace. Export value was up 17 percent to $6.48 billion for the same period, also a record pace.
Enhanced Gen Z, sustainability efforts
Checkoff teams nationally and locally continued work to reach Gen Z consumers (ages 10 to 23), who constitute 20 percent of the population. They have about $100 billion in purchasing power, which doesn’t account for the influence they have on their parents when it comes to products brought into the home.
This is why the checkoff launched a wave of the Undeniably Dairy campaign in October to create deeper connections between Gen Z and dairy and give them new reasons to choose it over other products. “Reset Yourself with Dairy” is a youth-centric initiative that is using various media channels and marketing strategies, including gaming, social media influencers and digital content, as well as retail and college campus promotions, to engage with Gen Z.
And U.S. dairy’s sustainability efforts received a boost of momentum in many ways. First, checkoff-led efforts helped finalize 5-year, up to $10 million agreements with Nestlé and Starbucks to support research, on-farm pilots and efforts to increase voluntary adoption of environmental practices and technologies across all farms through the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative (NZI).
Additional NZI funding – a $10 million grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) – will allow for the Dairy Soil & Water Regeneration project to perform feed production research over the next six years. Also announced was the Greener Cattle Initiative, a research program developed with FFAR and five partners to provide $5 million over five years to support research on enteric methane mitigation from cattle.
More 2021 checkoff highlights
• The farmer-founded Fuel Up to Play 60 program was repositioned in a fresh way to help students and educators navigate the new school year. Fuel Up to Play 60 unveiled an easy-to-navigate website (www.FuelUpToPlay60.com), educator dashboard and an enhanced student app that allows teachers and parents to learn about the program and access resources focused on dairy nutrition and dairy farmers’ care for the environment.
• National Dairy Council conducted various dairy-focused educational outreach efforts, which included farmers, with key thought leaders heading into September’s United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). The event convened international stakeholders from across the food system with the goal of making food production and consumption more sustainable and will serve as a call to action to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
• National and local checkoff teams, along with dairy companies and other organizations, helped move 664 million pounds of dairy into Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks during its recent fiscal year (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021). This is an increase of 195 million pounds from the previous year for the checkoff partner, which seeks to distribute more than 900 million pounds of dairy annually by 2025.
• E-commerce milk sales grew 24 percent and cheese sales by 16 percent (through October versus previous year), fueled by the checkoff’s partnership activities with Amazon and Kroger.
• Fluid milk partners Darigold, Kroger and Shamrock Rocking Protein launched or expanded value-added products this year with checkoff support.