Is mandatory dairy checkoff funding real milk’s demise?

Through futuristic lens: Is it time to end USDA control of dairy promotion?

No matter what innovations they come up with in the future, real dairy milk will always be the completely natural, minimally-processed, clean-label product with the superior combination of complete protein, healthy fat, and long list of essential natural nutrients, not additives. Treating real dairy milk like a cheap commodity must end. Innovative marketing may be more important in today’s times than innovative manufacturing processes. Government rules make it difficult to truly promote real dairy milk. It’s time to re-think the government oversight of the mandatorily farmer-funded milk promotion business so that truly competitive promotion can happen. (Istock photo).

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 29, 2019

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do. Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry. Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s where we need to be.”

These were the words of Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) to his dairy checkoff board recently as shared here, and in the March 20, 2019 edition of Farmshine from a video of his comments.

A glimpse into what that might mean was revealed at the IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association) convention in January, where DMI’s vice president of global innovation partnerships, Paul Ziemnisky told attendees that 95% of households have milk and buy milk, but that these households engage in “fewer consumption occasions”, according to a recent convention report in Dairy Foods magazine.

To increase ‘consumption occasions’, DMI has been investing checkoff dollars toward innovations in “milk-based” beverage growth, he said.

Through its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, DMI has invested checkoff dollars in these types of “pre-competitive” innovations in the past — an example being fairlife.

It is interesting that in both Gallagher’s comments to the DMI board and in the presentation by DMI’s Ziemnisky’s to processors, the term dairy-based or milk-based is used.

As we’ve reported previously, the direction of dairy innovation over the past 10 to 20 years has not been lacking in its drive to pull out the components of milk for inclusion in a variety of products — taking milk apart and putting it back together again — in a way that is new and different or in a way that presents milk and dairy as a new product.

Expect to see this type of innovation increase via these investments of dairy checkoff dollars into developing combination beverages that include pieces of milk in entirely new beverages.

This is what is meant by innovation.

At the IDFA convention, DMI gave processors a glimpse into some of the innovations they are working on to address four consumer targets that DMI has identified:

1)      A milk- and nut-based combination beverage,

2)      A milk with lavender and melatonin to promote sleep,

3)      A yo-fir product (kefir plus yogurt) beverage,

4)      A milk beverage that provides just a hint of flavor,

5)      More concepts in high-protein milk-based beverages,

6)      A ‘plosh’ blend of tea, coffee and milk, and

7)      An all-natural concept of milk blended with fruit.

As the overall beverage sector is exploding with new beverages of all kinds every year — some winners and some losers — DMI is looking to do more in the re-creation of dairy in the beverage space with new combination beverages that include milk, or components of milk, but are not identified as milk. These beverages will compete with non-dairy beverages, but in a sense, this track would further compress real dairy milk into its age-old commodity posture. Of course, those who are engaged in promotion of real dairy milk can position it as the wholly natural choice in a beverage sector of further processed combinations and concoctions.

Something to watch and be aware of is that PepsiCo – a company the dairy checkoff organizations are forming stronger bonds with — is on the frontier of turning drink dispensing machines into a hybrid of 3-D printing and multi-source create-your-own beverage dispensers. On the CNBC’s early-morning Squawk Box business news a few months ago, this concept was discussed showing a prototype where consumers can create their own unique beverage by pushing buttons for a little of this and a little of that. Millennials look for unique and “personalized” foods and beverages — we are told. And we see this trend in the “craft beer” category, for example.

A caveat to follow in this trend is the importance of labeling by USDA and FDA as the new gene-edited cell-cultured animal-based proteins and genetically-altered vat-grown yeast-produced dairy-based proteins move from the lab to the market in the next 12 to 24 months via partnerships between the billionaire-funded food technology startup companies and the world’s largest agricultural supply-chain companies. 

While everyone is watching what happens in the cell-cultured fake-meat category and the partnerships there with Cargill, most of us do not realize how close the dairy versions are to scaling-for-market — since Perfect Day company partnered last fall with ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). That partnership is predicated on ADM providing the facilities and mechanisms to ramp up the production of ‘cow-less’ so-called dairy proteins, and USDA research labs do the gene-altering to provide the seed-source of yeast for the process.

As these other proteins are introduced into the food supply, it is yet unclear how – exactly – they will be identified and differentiated in the marketplace. While the dairy and livestock sectors pushed hard to soften the distinctions of proteins in food from animals that have been fed GMO crops, the downside of USDA’s new Bio-Engineered (BE) food labels is that these fake proteins that are on the horizon may not be labeled or differentiated when they are a part of the final food or beverage product.

On the bio-engineering side of animal-based cell-cultured fake-meat protein production (cell-blobs grown in bioreactors), USDA and FDA are still working out the details of their combined food safety requirements.

But on the bio-engineering side of the yeast that have been genetically-altered to possess bovine DNA snips to exude ‘milk’ protein and perhaps other components (grown to exude dairy protein and components in fermentation vats), there is far less discussion of inspection or oversight.

As for the labeling of both types of bio-engineered protein, there is little discussion of how foods containing them will be labeled.

Just three months ago, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the new National Bio-Engineered Food Disclosure Standard that will be implemented in January of 2020. It is the result of the July 2016 law passed by Congress that directed USDA to establish one national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are – or may be – bio-engineered.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has developed the List of Bio-Engineered Foods to identify the crops – and foods – that are available in a bio-engineered form throughout the world and for which regulated entities must maintain records that inform whether or not they must make this bio-engineered food disclosure.

Some are voluntarily complying already, as I have seen this BE statement in very small print on small containers of some Kraft ‘cheese’ spreads.

The bottom line in this mandatory BE labeling requirement is that it only pertains to the main ingredient of the further-processed food or beverage and only if there is “detectable” genetically-altered material in that food. This means that the BE labeling may not apply to fake meat or fake dairy. In the case of the fake meat, the bio-engineering is the editing of DNA to grow muscle (boneless beef for example). In the case of fake dairy, the bio-engineering is yeast altered to include specific bovine DNA, but the resulting cow-less ‘dairy’ protein would have no detectable difference, its creators say.  

All animal protein checkoff programs have a tough road ahead. If farmers and ranchers continue to fund promotion of the foods and beverages that come from dairy and livestock farms, these fake iterations of the real thing will benefit unless promotion can be targeted to the real thing and consumers see the difference on a label in order to make a choice for the real thing.

This all sounds so futuristic and like science-fiction, but in foods today, this is where we are headed and our checkoff programs should be aware and should be able to stand up for the real thing. They should be allowed to lobby regulators for fair treatment and distinct labeling because the government requires farmers to pay these checkoff deductions to promote their products. Thus, if the government does not provide a clear path to distinguish fake from real, then the fairness of requiring a checkoff should no longer be considered valid.

As for dairy farmer checkoff funds, specifically, the future is here and DMI is already moving down that road to innovate dairy-based or milk-based products that dilute the meaning of dairy and milk in the marketplace – in effect paving the way to new innovations and products in which real dairy-farm-produced milk components can be replaced by fake-dairy components from genetically-altered yeast grown in ADM fermentation vats.

Perhaps checkoff funding should be directed in these difficult and changing times toward true promotion of what is real. We see that starting to happen with the “love what’s real” campaign, launched by the Milk Processors Promotion and Education Program (MilkPEP) and supported by DMI’s Undeniably Dairy social media campaign.

More than ever, the future of our dairy farms will rely upon promotion of what is REAL – moreso than using dairy farmer checkoff funds to find ways to put pieces of milk into other products or into 3-D Printers. Profile those components. Provide the benefits of real dairy components for the manufacturers that are moving into 3-D printing of personalized foods and beverages, but keep the powder dry for a full-out real dairy campaign. If USDA does not allow real dairy farmer checkoff funds to talk about why they are so much better than the fake stuff that is here and that is coming… then it is time to get the government out of the promotion business and return these funds to dairy farmers so they can voluntarily use them to promote their real products, their true dairy brands.

In a future of murky food sources – farmers must be able to stand up for what they produce. They must be able to promote Real Milk that is unfooled-around-with, that is from the cow they have fed and cared for.

With the food revolution here, dairy promotion will need a marketing revolution to welcome people back to what’s Real — especially as more household decisions are made by people growing up without knowing what Real Whole Milk tastes like.There’s an idea. Real Whole Milk is tastier, healthier, with a truly cleaner label than about anything else that is here or that is coming to compete with it in the beverage sector.

Ditto for Real Yogurt and Real Cheese, etc. in the food sector. Undeniably Dairy – the dairy checkoff program – has a nice ring to it. Love what’s Real has a great message to it. But if dairy farmers can’t use their mandatory funds to take the fake stuff head-on, then it’s time to stop taking mandatory checkoffs and allow farmers to use their money to promote their product – no holds barred.

When the competition is funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, has the backing of major food and agriculture supply-chain companies, is sourcing genetically-altered material from USDA, and does not have government requiring distinctive labeling – then dairy farmers need a level playing field to use their hard earned $350 million plus to put a stake in the ground to promote why Real is better. Checkoff staff often say the competition is doing brand advertising and “we can’t.”

That being the case, perhaps give the money back to the farmers so they can form voluntary promotion groups or voluntarily give the funds to the brand that receives their milk to get in the game of head-to-head advertising instead of, in essence, funding a path to their own substitution and demise.

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DMI CEO on fluid milk

‘Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next.’

Schools represent more consumer touch-points for milk than all other sectors, combined

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 22, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. — The fluid milk category is receiving much attention after a decade of rapid declines in sales. What does the CEO of the national dairy checkoff organization DMI have to say on the topic?

For starters, he says the dairy industry should stop blaming the alternative beverages and start looking at its own failures.

In his CEO’s Report, delivered at the February DMI board meeting, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher addressed the fluid milk question. While no press release or public statement or copy of the CEO’s Report was provided to Farmshine, a video was posted to the private Dairy Checkoff facebook page and was subsequently provided to Farmshine by a dairy farmer participant.

Since Gallagher states while giving his “CEO’s Report” that this information is ‘public’ and that “we want you to take pictures of it and share it, do what you want with it, it’s yours.” So we are sharing with Farmshine readers what was shared with us by dairy farmers what was shared with dairy farmers via the closed facebook group.

Gallagher began his report talking about farmer engagement. 

“The power of the industry is within the industry, it’s the farmer,” he said. “We can commit to activating the dairy farmer at the local and national levels, then we can have a big voice, especially, on what it is that your checkoff really does.”

He talked about the changing world of consumer influence, saying that, “When you think about the things we need to do, more and more they are moving away from the things we are familiar with.”

From there, he referenced a presenter for the following day who would be talking about the future, about 3-D printing of food.

“Well, it’s not the future because you can go on Amazon today, and for $2000, buy a 3-D printer that will print dessert for you,” said Gallagher. “We think, why would people eat that? They don’t like processed foods. But the people who make those and the food production people — and hopefully dairy protein will be in that, not plant protein — they don’t need the 90% of people consuming your product. They just need 5 or 10 or 4% to have a very successful business. If that’s what people are going to be doing, we need to be there.”

Gallagher announced that DMI will be buying a 3-D printer, a few of them. “We’ll buy one, and we’re going to figure it out and we’ll figure out how to approach these 3-D printing companies with dairy-based proteins in foods to be used in them,” he said. “We can’t afford to be nickeled and dimed with 4% of consumers here and 5% there.”

He went on to observe that just 4% of consumers identify as vegan and that vegetarians are also a small number. “What is really driving plant-based foods and beverages is not predominantly the vegan movement, it’s because these companies are investing  hundreds of millions of dollars and are getting really good at taste, are phenomenal at marketing and great at innovation.”

He referenced diets that promote being vegan or vegetarian before 6:00 and other consumer trends.

“I think our goal is it is not either-or, it can be both… We have to be honest with ourselves, there will be plant-based beverages out there, and people will buy them, and they will gain share, not because people are vegan or concerned about sustainability… it’s because the food and beverage companies are doing a great job at what they do,” Gallagher said.

“If we do the same job in the dairy industry, we will be just fine. But if we sit back like we did with fluid milk, we will be where we are with fluid milk,” he added.

Referencing a report in the 1980s before the checkoff was authorized by Congress, Gallagher said: “That report laid out everything that needed to be done for fluid milk, and that same report would be valid today because none of it was done — not until fairlife and a few other things.”

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do,” said Gallagher from a marketing, not policy, standpoint. “Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry.

“Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s were we need to be,” said Gallagher. When it comes to policy, nutritional values and sustainability discussions, that’s another discussion we need to enter into.” 

In the breakdown on sales, he said foodservice milk is up slightly even though retail and other sectors are down. The data was by servings, and he explained how sales figures are pieced together and how program evaluations fit into those.

He also talked about a meeting DMI had with the top persons from the five top coops for packaged fluid milk salesn — DFA, Select, Prairie Farms, Darigold and Maryland-Virginia — along with Jim Mulhern of NMPF, Tom Vilsack of USDEC, Rick Naczi of ADANE, Marilyn Hershey, president of DMI, along with a former CEO of fairlife with some insights. 

“We came out of that meeting as positive about fluid milk as ever on how the industry can work together to change the trajectory,” said Gallagher, explaining that they looked at how much of fluid consumption is really pushed down into Class II, and to see if getting and including that number, what that would do to the per-capita fluid milk consumption numbers. 

“The group focused on kids. Kids is the deal — at 6 billion containers a year, when everything else is 5.3 billion,” said Gallagher. “So while schools only represent 7.7% of consumption, it represents more touch-points with consumers than everything else combined. So, they, on their own, quickly came to the conclusion that we have got to deal with the kids for a variety of reasons — sales and trust. And they asked DMI to put together a portfolio of products for kids inside of schools and outside of schools. What are the niches that need to be filled? What’s the right packaging? What needs to be in the bottle? And we can do that,” he said.

Depending on the results of the next meeting, the circle could be expanded. And regulatory, legislative and standards of identity issues were brought up that DMI can’t be involved in, but NMPF can. 

Author’s note: Meanwhile, all of those kids in school, those 6 billion touch-points for milk every year that surpass all other touch-points for milk, combined, are forced to consume (or discard) fat-free or 1% milk. The simple answer would be to give them whole milk that tastes good so they know what milk is vs. trying to re-invent the wheel. As an industry, we can’t know what the per-capita fluid milk consumption figures would look like today if the 60 billion touch-points over the past 10 years had been permitted by the government to consume whole milk. Before reinventing some pre-competitive proprietary wheel, shouldn’t those touch-points (schoolkids) have an opportunity to try real whole milk?

To be continued