‘Unify or die’ concept doesn’t cut it

Time for transparency on where dairy checkoff’s partnerships are leading

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 28, 2020

Partnerships and proprietary information stop many conversations from moving forward when it comes to the direction of dairy checkoff leadership under Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

Meanwhile, contrary to DMI CEO Tom Gallagher’s assertions in the Aug. 5 ‘open mic’ call, consumers DON’T know the nutritional benefits of milk. That’s why grassroots efforts to promote milk (like the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free effort) get so much action. People really know very little about milk and dairy after decades of dairy farmers spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually in promotion and education.

But that’s okay, according to Gallagher, DMI is a supply chain expander.

We keep hearing this theme that consumers will deal with fewer players, shop at fewer stores, become less brand-loyal, learn to accept pre-planned food categories and assortments, realize ‘generics’ are just as good as brands, and will focus more on how diets affect the planet, while spending more for new innovative products… We have to stop a minute and wonder:

What does all of THAT mean?

First off, the math is not adding up.

More than one report or webinar has hit on the indicators showing consumers are focused on food purchases that address their concerns about health and economic value, and they are finding comfort in traditional choices – like real milk and dairy products.

Furthermore, the food disruptions of the pandemic have created more interest among consumers in where their food comes from – is it local, regional, produced in the U.S.? They are more in touch with the importance of local and regional food systems, and less keen on global supply chains nor globalization — not just of food, but also medicine and other necessities.

While rank-and-file consumers and farmers find opportunity and security in building localized or regional food systems, that is the last thing the big players want to see happen. So what do they do? They mine consumer data, something DMI will help with, to twist consumers’ health- and value-focused concerns to fit a ‘planetary’ values system that steers consumers straight into the jaws of the global suppliers that have checked all their pre-planned criteria boxes.

They want consumers to prioritize planetary diets so supply chains can be centralized and globalized — pure and simple — and our own industry checkoff organizations are participating at best, helping them accomplish it, at worst.

In fact, the “good for the planet” mantra — as defined by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its World Resources Institute (WRI) is what global corporations and Silicon Valley tech food investors are all about. They are creating the boxes, checking them off, and then trying to convince consumers that this is what is important to them when making decisions about their food.

Data clouds, omnichannel marketing, digitized food, personalized experiences, purpose-driven marketing, planetary diets – these are but a few of the buzz terms and technologies driving future of food transformation.

Through GENYOUth, the dairy checkoff is actually facilitating transformation, grooming schoolchildren to make choices that will eventually pad the wallets of billionaire tech-sector food investors and give them control under the guise of planetary diets and climate change. The future-of-food players need a global ‘value-driver’. It was climate change. 

Then came Covid, and people were forced home and began to turn inward to the health and economic needs of themselves and their families. They began to see the importance of communities and began to recognize that farmers are connected to their communities.

To bring them back “on-task”, WWF recently launched a campaign to link Covid-19 to the already set goals. In fact, according to its website, WWF explains that, “A big possible casualty of COVID-19 are the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a July 22 report on the pandemic and planetary health, WWF scientist Robin Naidoo states that, “In 2015, the United Nations adopted (Sustainable Development) goals to improve people’s lives and the natural world by 2030.The success of these SDGs depends on two big assumptions: sustained economic growth and globalization.

“COVID-19 has now torn both assumptions to shreds,” the WWF report states. “This has fundamental implications for how we conceive of and prioritize sustainability in a post-pandemic world.”

The report then goes on to twist the narrative on these UN SDGs (that are also part of DMI’s Net Zero Initiative) to say 30 of the targets “would help to lessen the likelihood of another global pandemic.”

Like a chameleon, the big players adapt the plan by changing the picture to shift consumer focus back onto the planetary diets and by honing in on post-Covid concerns about health and economics from a different angle. Easier to do this when people do not know much about milk and dairy.

Yes, there is a tug of war emerging from the pandemic in which consumers seek and grassroots farmers can deliver real, whole, healthful foods in regional, national and international food systems that are in direct competition with centralized global supply chains that want to streamline, limit options and control diets.

While DMI leaders are busy convincing dairy farmers to get with the program of unified marketing in order to compete – as one — in a big marketplace, what is DMI actually doing with their empowerment?

— DMI has a close working relationship with WWF to write the rules of the ‘sustainability’ and ‘net-zero GHG’ playbook – the driver.

— DMI’s marketing and public relations contractor Edelman has close ties to WWF, the EAT Lancet forums, and is developing new terms for brands in the plant-based alternative milk sectors.

— DMI partners with DFA to help launch a 50% milk 50% oat or almond juice beverage with pretty packaging and marketing that make it appear superior to the milk produced and bottled from dairy farms.

— DMI’s GENYOUth program facilitates access to schoolchildren so global corporations and other partners can groom schoolchildren into future decision-making consumers focused on “planetary diets” – their global value system.

DMI recently hired a digital food and cellular ag proponent as its vice president of Dairy Scale for Good. Caleb Harper’s hiring has brought many questions but is merely one more cog in the supply chain wheel being built with dairy farmer checkoff money. His focus will be large dairies. His background is controlled environment horticulture through computerized plant boxes that several science publications, and even public radio, pointed out were “smoke and mirrors.” His father has ties to the early rendition of fairlife through Mike McCloskey, and both Harper and McCloskey are part of WWF’s thought leadership group

Innovation is normally something to be enthusiastic about. Technology is progressive and something farmers embrace. Competition is healthy and provides entrepreneurial opportunities.

But when it comes to mandatory promotion dollars, gone are the days of managing content that everyone can see, as it all goes digitally underground to meet proprietary consumer targets of partners. Gone are the days of education to promote the benefits of dairy to meet the needs and questions of consumers.

When farmers are forced to fund an entity with the power to set parameters on how they do business, an entity that is overseen by USDA and yet is partnered with activist groups, large multinational companies and global supply chain consolidators, and an entity that can pay for research that then becomes proprietary and could involve diluted dairy products such as butter that is mostly water, and an entity that begins to see its role as the expander of the supply chain… yes, transparency and vigilance are most definitely needed.

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