DMI’s mission has undeniably strayed

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 23, 2019

CHICAGO, Ill. – Since Dairy Management Inc (DMI) was formed, it has grown to include (and control) many agencies and partnerships that put much of the work into the zone of “proprietary,” even to the 81 voting DMI board members.

In the portion of the most recent 2017 IRS 990 form, where DMI is asked to describe its program accomplishments, the responses specify that, “DMI partners with foodservice industry leaders to help create dairy-based innovation to drive dairy sales and build trust in dairy products.”

The response describes 2017 activity in detail. 

While the work done to boost cheese use by restaurant chains resulted in increases of milk equivalent tonnage that are quite impressive, according to DMI (look for more on that in a future article), it is the fluid milk sector reinvention that we will examine here.

In its 990 description of fluid milk partnerships, DMI states: “The dairy checkoff program, working with committed milk processors, embarked on a comprehensive revitalization strategy to reinvent the milk experience for consumers.”

What does that mean? 

DMI explains: “The focus includes milk as a standalone beverage as well as an ingredient in other beverage segments such as coffee, tea, smoothies, energy drinks and more.”

As part of this “comprehensive revitalization” effort, the DMI board approved partnerships since 2010 with eight companies they deem as leaders and innovators in the milk and beverage arena, including: Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), which just recently launched the Live Real Farms Dairy + Almond and Dairy + Oat ‘milk’ comprised of half low-fat lactose-free dairy milk and half almond or oat beverage; Darigold/Northwest Dairy Association, which among other new fluid milk products markets a fat-free creamer it calls ‘fat-free half-and-half’ (a contradiction in terms).

Also among the eight are these current partners as of 2017: The Kroger Company, which sources 80% of its milk to Select Milk Producers / Fair Oaks;  Shamrock Farms, which partnered with DMI on the Rockin Refuel brand found in chains like Subway nationwide; and Coca-Cola/Fairlife.

Specifically, the 990 form reports that, “The Checkoff program supported Lactaid innovation, marketing and health professional outreach, which spurred innovation and growth in the lactose-free segment overall.”

The 990 description states that the dairy checkoff supported innovation in extended shelf-life brands as well.

But its signature is fairlife, according to the 2017 form 990, which states: “DMI assisted and invested in the national 2015 launch of fairlife milk. The goal was to create a national fluid milk brand leveraging the resources and scale of Coca-Cola. Fairlife has been a tremendous success and continues to grow, achieving dollar sales of $250 million,” according to DMI.

“This is a feat that fewer than 1% of new products achieve,” DMI states further, adding that, “About 50% of consumers repeat their purchase of fairlife, a good predictor of its success moving forward. Based upon fairlife’s initial success, fairlife’s owners have announced (in 2017) the addition of two new production lines to meet consumer demand.”

Those production lines, according to DMI, were planned for installation in 2018. Production lines are also planned for Canada as the product was piloted there in 2018.

According to DMI, a new fairlife plant in Arizona is set to begin production in late 2019.

Other partnership products, such as Shamrock’s Rockin Refuel and the coffee and tea latte drinks with Shamrock and with Kroger were mentioned in the fluid milk portion of DMI’s 990 description of accomplishments.

In summary, states DMI, “Our partnerships are already stimulating change in the industry and fundamentally changing the way the fluid milk industry does business by driving investment in modern infrastructure and by creating new products.”

In fact, according to the DMI 990 form, the agency states that the lactose-free milk segment grew by 15% in 2016 and 11.5% in 2017.

Meanwhile, diet and health professionals are increasingly recognizing the benefits of regular whole milk and the A2 milk on digestive sensitivity. This is something that is not promoted by any mandatory dairy checkoff organization and whether it is conventional whole milk or A2 milk, there is no need to further process the milk to obtain the benefits on digestive sensitivity or lactose intolerance.

For example, New York City registered dietician, certified diabetes educator and author Laura Cipullo writes: “When someone eats full-fat dairy versus low-fat dairy, the fat will actually delay the absorption of the milk’s sugar (lactose). As a result, blood sugar rises more slowly over a longer period of time. Consequently, insulin follows this same pattern. Less circulating insulin means less risk for development of insulin resistance and diabetes.”

This was further supported at the recent hearing in Harrisburg, Pa. that focused on getting whole milk back in schools.

During the hearing and rally, registered dietician and nutrition professor Dr. Althea Zanecoskey stated that whole milk provides ‘satiety’, helping those consuming it stay fuller, longer. She said studies show how children consuming whole milk, compared with low-fat (1%) milk, had lower body fatness and less risk of obesity. They also had higher vitamin D status. It took three cups of low-fat milk to get the vitamin D status seen in children after consuming just one cup of whole milk. Vitamin D is a nutrient of concern, according to medical professionals finding it lacking in children and youth.

Whole milk, in and of itself, checks all the boxes.

According to Cipullo, the milkfat found in whole milk “calms digestive sensitivity.”

In fact, according to various expert comments at the USDA Dietary Guidelines docket in the Federal Register, the beneficial milkfat consumed in Whole Milk, reduces the amount of lactose per 8-oz serving, and even more important, as stated above, the milkfat in Whole Milk slows the absorption of the lactose.

Cipullo explains: “Full-fat dairy is lower in lactose, making it easier for individuals with lactose intolerance to digest compared to low-fat or no-fat dairy,” she writes. “Meanwhile one specific fatty acid contained in dairy is known to aid in gastrointestinal health, and according to a 2013 review from Polish researchers, may actually hold promise in the treatment of IBS and promoting healthy gut bacteria.”

While the innovators partner with dairy checkoff to “reinvent the milk experience”, there is evidence now that a simple solution — that would benefit all dairy farmers paying into the mandatory dairy checkoff from all markets — would be to promote and support real, simple, un-fooled-around-with whole milk.

USDA’s oversight and the flawed Dietary Guidelines are the only obstacles standing in the way, despite a growing list of research-based information showing that whole milk holds beneficial keys to health, not harm, when it comes to long-term cardiovascular disease risk, obesity, body mass index, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, digestive health and sensitivity, vitamin D status, nutrient density, nutrient absorption, satiety (feeling fuller, longer), memory and cognitive focus, as well as mood and mental sharpness. Not to mention the more than a dozen essential nutrients that ride along when people choose whole milk because it tastes good instead of opting for empty calories from other non-dairy beverages.

DMI shows its goals for innovation, further processing, blending, and marketing of ‘dairy-based’ or ‘dairy-included’ beverages as a market-building path for the future.

But at the same time, stronger promotion of the original, purely perfect Real Whole Milk would resonate with consumers, because most do not know anything about milk, and when they learn the truth, it opens their eyes to whole milk as a choice.

Whole milk could be ‘reinvented’ just as it is, with better packaging and the freedom to actually promote it. But due to USDA’s control of the message and direction of dairy checkoff, and the proprietary nature of the many partnerships that the checkoff funds, it may be time to reinvent the mandatory dairy checkoff.

Does milk need reinventing?  Simply-unfooled-around-with whole milk checks all the boxes for health and flavor. Meanwhile, DMI states in a 2017 IRS form 990 that it has a “comprehensive revitalization strategy to reinvent the milk experience for consumers.” Since whole milk was pulled from schools in 2009, more young people are growing up believing they are lactose intolerant. Meanwhile, the innovations brought to market with DMI partners over this time period are dairy-based low-fat lactose-free and blended beverages. However, a growing body of research shows science-based reasons why the fat-free and low-fat milk consumption promoted to youth by the dairy checkoff through FUTP60 and GENYouth, in partnership with USDA, may actually be creating much of the new and milder forms of digestive sensitivity that could be avoided by simply consuming regular whole milk. Graphic by Sherry Bunting

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Value added? Or subtracted? DMI, DFA partner on new blend

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, July 26, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The news of DFA’s new Dairy Plus Blends – a half lactose-free low-fat milk / half plant-based beverage concoction broke mid-July. DFA’s Live Real Farms brand website showed Lund and Byerly’s stores as the place to buy the Dairy + Almond and Dairy + Oat, but a visit to two stores on the list at the Minneapolis city limits did not have the beverages in the dairy case – yet.

Looking at the packaging, a first impression is: Wow, why doesn’t 100% milk packaging look this good. If only the agencies managing mandatory milk promotion funds and dairy-farmer-owned co-ops put as much thought into packaging and marketing 100% Real Whole Milk as they do for a diluted “innovation,” imagine what could be accomplished!

A further examination of the new Dairy Plus Blends packaging brought this thought: Why use words such as “Purely Perfect” and “Original” for a blend, when such words would seem best reserved for marketing the actual original, purely perfect 100% Real Whole Milk that the DFA member-owner dairy farmers produce and that actually results in the dairy-checkoff promotion funds.

We asked DFA for some background. In fact, we sent 11 questions to DFA and to DMI communications staffs because we were aware that DFA’s Live Real Farms brand is part of a checkoff-supported partnership between DMI and DFA to innovate products in the fluid milk space under the auspices of DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

We first wanted to know, why the blend? Why not just create an almond FLAVORED 100% real milk beverage? Because, after all, the new Dairy Plus Blends have half the calories, but they also have half the natural nutrients and only slightly more than half the protein of real 100% dairy milk.

It seemed like value was being subtracted, not added.

We all know that almond beverage has barely any almond in it, being mostly filtered water and some additives, so it seemed like the product is an offering of diluted milk. Since we couldn’t find any on the shelf yet at Lund and Byerly’s in Minneapolis, we aren’t sure if consumers will be asked to pay more – for less.

Of course, the packaging does have more. It touches all the right chords.

DFA was kind enough to answer some of our questions, although we have heard nothing back yet from DMI.

“In an effort to meet the demands of modern consumers, Live Real Farms has launched a new beverage, Dairy Plus Blends, which combines all the nutritional benefits of real cow’s milk with the flavor and texture of alternative beverage options like almond or oat,” stated Rachel Kyllo, senior vice president of growth and innovation at Live Real Farms, a DFA-owned brand.

The reply came by email to the questions we submitted.

“All the nutritional benefits of real cow’s milk”? (The label says 5 grams of protein per 8-ounce serving, not 8, and the other naturally occurring nutrients in real cow’s milk are also reduced.)

Kyllo continues in the reply:

“Nearly 50% of consumers who buy plant-based beverages also have dairy milk in the fridge, so they’re buying both products,” she writes. “This product is not about pivoting away from dairy, instead we saw an opportunity to fulfill a need as people like almond or oat drinks for certain things and dairy for others. This product combines the two into a new, different-tasting drink that’s still ultimately rooted in real, wholesome dairy.”

We wanted to know DMI’s part in developing this concept, seeing that dairy farmers mandatorily pay a checkoff promotion fee on every 100 pounds of milk they sell.

DFA’s response stated that, “The overall product concept for Dairy Plus Blends was developed along with DMI and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Consumer focus groups were conducted with Millennial and Gen X primary shoppers. Overall feedback was positive regarding the product concept, taste and packaging.”

We wanted to know more about how the product will roll out.

“Dairy Plus Blends are now being test marketed at more than 300 retail stores in Minnesota,” the DFA response stated. “If successful in test, the brand plans to roll out more broadly across the United States, beginning in the Central and Northeastern regions of the U.S.”

DFA has already been bottling plant-based alternatives in copacking arrangements in the Midwest. And, the Cumberland plant in New Jersey, formerly owned by the Camalero family, and purchased in 2017 by DFA, bottles plant-based beverages also as the Camaleros still operate the plant, and they retained ownership of their plant-based beverage investments.

We also wanted to know how the real dairy milk that makes up 50% of the new Dairy Plus Blends is classified for Federal Order pricing, but that question was not answered.

And, we wanted to know if DFA in its “partnership to innovate” with DMI has any plans to innovate the marketing and packaging of 100% Real Whole Dairy Milk in such a pleasing and attractive way as they have with the Dairy Plus Blends? That question was not answered either.

We also wondered if this “blend” will pull dairy milk drinkers as they hear all this talk about becoming “flexitarian” – cutting back on foods that come from cows and adding more foods that come from plants to, you know, save the earth and all.

Along these lines, DFA’s response attributed to Kyllo at Live Real Farms was: “We’re confident milk will continue to have a place on family tables for years to come, but we also understand and appreciate that consumers have choices in what they drink today. We think Dairy Plus Blends offer a refreshing taste experience and provides a unique way to get dairy in front of consumers who might explore other beverage options.”

We wonder if this is an invitation by a dairy-farmer-owned cooperative, funded in part by dairy-farmer-checkoff to lure consumers into experimenting with something new instead of dairy milk or will it appeal to people who have no intention of drinking 100% real dairy milk? It’s hard to tell, but it’s worth watching.

Some advocates of this kind of experimentation say that the fluid milk market needs more lactose-free choices. There are already lactose-free milk choices, there is also A2 for other types of digestive sensitivity, and there’s one thing everyone seems to be forgetting. Whole milk is more easily digested by people with these sensitivities. There’s actual real proof of this now, not just personal experience, but that’s a story for another day.

In this time of continued fluid milk sales losses, farm milk prices below breakeven for five years and dairy farms exiting the business, why does the dairy-checkoff not re-brand and re-market and innovate the packaging and promotion of Real 100% Whole Milk that is virtually 97% fat-free and loaded with natural goodness? Why not actually partner to innovate the brand-promotion MILK? What a novel idea!

Oops, that’s right. I think USDA lawyers would have a problem with that.

One thing that is impressive coming out of Live Real Farms is the Wholesome Smoothie line of Whole Milk yogurt smoothies last year. DFA says it plans to develop “a robust product line with the launch of additional, innovative products over the next three to five years.”

We’ll be paying attention to all of them.

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