DMI-led, DFA-made: ‘siips’ is new ‘teen milk’, but…

But… when given the opportunity, teens choose regular fresh whole milk

siips: Siimply Perfect. Real Milk. Real Good. You Be You. These are the descriptive taglines for SIIPS, a shelf-stable, aseptically-packaged, ultrapasteurized, lowfat milk packaged by DFA in an 8-oz. aluminum can as a new “teen milk” based on DMI’s research of what it takes to make milk relevant to teens again. And DMI says more ‘innovations’ or ‘reinventions’ or ‘relevant products’ are on the way from other partners. All of this money and time spent to answer a question teens and pre-teens and elementary-aged students could have told us quickly, cheaply and easily, given the opportunity to choose whole milk – without the fancy packaging and processing that puts it neatly into a global supply chain instead of a local or regional fresh food system.

By Sherry Bunting (Farmshine, Nov. 13, 2020)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – On one hand they say they are not involved in reinventing school milk and then, well, they say they are.

Siips is the new low-fat, shelf-stable grab-and-go “teen milk” from Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). According to Dairy Management Inc (DMI), checkoff led the way on the innovation and test launch in selected locations over summer.  

Siips is a result of DMI’s fluid milk revitalization efforts and is targeted to improving the youth milk experience with relevant packaging and flavors,” according to a recent edition of Your Checkoff News.

During last week’s Center for Dairy Excellence industry conference call, a portion of the hour was devoted to questions and answers with DMI leaders, and we learned more about revitalization, innovation, and reinvention.

According to Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president for global innovation partnerships at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), DMI has been working since last summer to “understand perceptions of milk in schools.”

He said products like siips represent what DMI has learned from students in a variety of demographics so that milk can compete again.

Siips is grab-and-go milk in an aluminum 8-oz. can in the flavors of caramel, mocha and chocolate,” he explained. “Products like this will make milk competitive in the school ala carte area, and we are working with other partners for other ala carte grab and go products.”

Ziemnisky noted that DMI is also working with processors and technology companies to develop dispensers like those used in foodservice where students can choose their milk ‘formula’ or ‘flavors’. He said Covid set the test launch back for those, but they are coming.

The bottom line is, he said: “We are looking at new packaging systems… aseptic sustainable packaging, all in the process of starting up. We are working with the industry to line up 6 to 7 tests in key systems to create a catalytic effect across the whole industry.”

A dairy producer submitted this question: “We are seeing grants from checkoff to develop a ‘kids milk’ at Cornell. We already have a ‘kids milk.’ It is called whole milk. We are frustrated. Why would our checkoff spend money on this rather than spending money to get whole milk back in schools?”

DMI president Barb O’Brien replied that she is “not familiar with the ‘kids milk’ project. We are not involved in specialized formulation for school milk,” she said. “But we can tell you about the research programs we have invested in.”

Ziemnisky picked up from there to explain that, “Everything we do has to start with consumers to make sure what we do is relevant.”

He said DMI’s partners, including MilkPEP, are the experts in marketing and advertising while DMI is the expert on consumer research and insights.

O’Brien and Ziemnisky explained that what DMI does is “back-end strategy with brands to advance U.S. Dairy’s priorities.”

They said the brand partners spend “10 to 20 times our investment in bringing to market these innovations.”

“Three years ago, the milk revitalization alliance was formed,” said Ziemnisky. “By partnering with brands, we unlock new platforms and then leverage that to access their customers.”

O’Brien said that’s how DMI has managed what is essentially a $300 million state and national budget to become the equivalent of $3 billion in consumer access and increased per capita dairy sales.

Ziemnisky reported that whole milk sales grew by $1.8 billion on a value basis over the past five years to 41% of net sales at retail. He owed this to what he said were DMI’s “57 whole milk studies.”

(We can’t find any whole milk studies on the list of 57 studies, just a few studies related to full-fat cheese.)

The problem with 40 years of declining overall fluid milk sales, said Ziemnisky is that “the sector has gone 40 years without innovation.”

(The sector has also gone 40 years under what have become increasingly fat-restrictive USDA enforcement of its Dietary Guidelines, but that wasn’t mentioned.)

Ziemnisky pointed out that the gains made in whole milk sales have come at the expense of fat-free milk sales.

“We have a fix for that too,” he said. “Our goal is to make milk relevant again with high protein, low carb, portability, as well as reinvention at schools, foodservice and e-commerce to fit changing consumer lifestyles.”

As for the simple choice of whole milk in schools? DMI leaders were asked if they would fund and support a research trial like the one done last year at one middle/high school in Pennsylvania showing 65% gains in milk sales and sustainable reductions in waste of 95%.

O’Brien was “thrilled” to hear about that study and said exceptions can be granted for research, but quickly turned the conversation over to Ziemnisky to talk about the research and innovation of school milk DMI is already investing in.

Look for more in the next edition on DMI’s partnership with DFA on plant-based blends – why and how and other topics.

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Grassroots dairy meet with Rep. Thompson, a champion for Ag; Dietary Guidelines, whole milk in schools top the agenda

Congressman G.T. Thompson (center) is flanked on left by Dale Hoffman of Potter County and Sherry Bunting of Lancaster County and on his right by Bernie Morrissey of Berks County, Krista Byler of Crawford County and Nelson Troutman of Berks County. The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort met with Rep. Thompson this week on dairy issues.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 30, 2020

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — From the Dietary Guidelines and whole milk choice in schools to dairy checkoff and milk pricing formula concerns, five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee involved in the 97 Milk effort from across northwestern, northern tier and southeast Pennsylvania met with U.S. Congressman Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-15th) in Bellefonte, Pa. this week to talk about dairy.

Rep. Thompson helped lead the writing of a letter signed by 53 members of the U.S. House, including Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue asking for a delay on the decision about final Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) for 2020-25 until all of the science on saturated fat is considered.

Despite the bipartisan letter, Thompson indicated that USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) will move ahead to finalize the guidelines by the end of the year.

Thompson shared his thoughts about the disconnect between the legislative branch and a bureaucratically appointed DGA Committee in formulating the DGAs which have so much impact on children and Pennsylvania’s rural economy.

With the election next week in the balance, Thompson said he is looking at introducing language that would give the legislative branch some role in advise and consent with regard to the DGAs. He also praised his colleagues from Pennsylvania as many have cosponsored the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and the Give Milk Act. These bills would allow whole milk as an option at school and in the WIC program.

Under the current House leadership, the bill on school milk is not moving as it has not been taken up by the chair of the Committee on Education and Labor.

“As you know, our office made recommendations for members of the DGA Committee, but that didn’t happen,” said Thompson. “It’s hard to believe that the modern-day science is being ignored on this issue of whole milk. We need checks and balances, not only to serve the needs of children in school, to give them this choice, but also because of the damage these rules do to our rural economy.”

It goes without saying that if the Republicans are able to gain a majority in the House, there would be a better pathway to moving on some of these issues surrounding the way whole milk (and even 2% milk for that matter) are banned from school choices while other less nutritional beverages are offered unchecked. With Democrats in the majority for the past three years, there has been no movement on the bills.

Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee member Krista Byler of Spartansburg, Crawford County, reported to the Congressman that while the beverages offered ala carte at school are calorie controlled per serving, there are no limits on how many of these beverages a student can purchase. At the middle and high school level, sports drinks, diet tea coolers, diet soda, and energy drinks are all allowed.

“But students can’t purchase even one serving of whole milk,” she said. “They simply aren’t allowed.”

“We need to get back to where milk is not tied to the school meal calculation and let it stand alone, and give students the choice,” said Thompson.

Byler serves as head chef and foodservice director for Union City School District, and her husband Gabe operates a 125-cow dairy farm with his father and brother, along with beef cattle and grain crops.

She explained that schools are afraid to move outside of the USDA edicts based on the Dietary Guidelines because of financial repercussions, and it’s difficult to get others to see the issue because so many people are generally unaware that children are limited to only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk options at school.

Five members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee from around the state talked about dairy issues with Congressman Thomspon, especially the Dietary Guidelines and getting whole milk choice in schools.

The group discussed ideas for how to obtain waivers from USDA to do a statewide trial where schools could simply offer all fat levels of milk and collect the data. One such trial, done quietly in Pennsylvania during the 2019-20 school year, revealed that when students at the middle and high school level were given the choice, they chose whole milk 3 to 1 over low-fat. At the same time total milk consumption rose by 65%, and the volume of milk discarded daily by students declined by 95%.

“That’s huge,” said Byler, a constituent of the Congressman. “We don’t need to reinvent a new ‘kids milk,’ we already have one that students will choose if given the opportunity.”

Thompson agreed, stating that, “Now is the time to look at something like this because what have families been turning to in this pandemic? Whole milk,” he said.

This is supported by the most recent USDA data through June showing that both whole milk and 2% milk sales made big gains in June as supply chains worked through the early Covid issues – pushing total fluid milk sales up 2.2% over year ago year-to-date January through June with whole and 2% unflavored white milk together accounting for more than 70% of all fluid milk sales categories, and whole milk alone being the largest selling category.

“Whole milk is what families are seeking when the choice is up to them,” said Thompson, indicating that while consumers are seeing the science on whole milk, the DGA committee is not.

“All of the doctors interviewed on news programs during this pandemic are talking about Vitamin D as boosting the immune system,” said Bernie Morrissey of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee.

Thompson observed that with Vitamin D and other nutrients being fat soluble, the DGAs are missing the boat.

Morrissey and Troutman are working with businesses and organizations buying and distributing “Vote Whole Milk School Lunch Choice, Citizens for Immune Boosting Nutrition – 97milk.com” yard signs that are proliferating across the countryside. A link at the 97 Milk website lets citizens know how to get involved, and a second link provides information to get involved in delaying the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines until all the science is considered on saturated fat.

Concerns about the transparency and accountability of the dairy checkoff program were also discussed, and Thompson was receptive to looking at ways to turn this around.

The Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee suggested ending the influence of importers by ending the import checkoff of 7.5 cents per hundredweight equivalent. This seemed like a good idea when it was implemented in 2007, but in retrospect has set the globalization direction of the national dairy checkoff’s unified marketing plan and ended the practice of promoting Real Seal, made in the U.S. products.

The committee was also looking at the promotion order asking the Secretary of Agriculture, who can amend the order at any time, or to work legislatively to clarify producer rights under the law in where their ‘local’ dime portion of the checkoff is assigned for education and promotion.

Nelson Troutman, a dairy farmer in Richland, Berks County, who started the Drink Whole Milk 97% Fat Free ‘baleboards’ noted that the corn and soybean growers have periodic review of their checkoff programs, and asked if there is a way for dairy farmers paying the mandatory checkoff to have more say on whether it should continue, or more transparency to see all of the expenditures and the plans submitted by DMI to USDA.

The Committee also suggested evaluating the way the boards are formed and even noted that the language of the order suggests the Secretary can call for a referendum even without a petition by 10% of the producers and importers. 

They noted that fresh fluid milk and other fresh dairy products are a critical market for Pennsylvania producers, but the emphasis of the industry appears to be moving in a different direction. Education, promotion and research are important, but the current direction of the national drivers is in question.  

Dale Hoffman of Hoffman Farms, Shinglehouse, Potter County and Troutman both shared the economic conditions in milk pricing and marketing of milk, especially the extreme difference between high protein value and CME cheese markets since June compared with what dairy farmers in the Northeast are actually seeing in their milk checks as negative PPDs subtract the value of their milk components.

In fact, the official Dairy Margin coverage margin for Pennsylvania is running $1 to $3 behind the U.S. average for June through September, when normally Pennsylvania runs with the U.S. average or 20 to 50 cents above it. The divergence makes it hard for producers to use risk management tools and have them function as intended.

Hoffman noted that producers have lost their ability to market their milk competitively in the region – especially in the north and west of the state — and their voice in how milk is priced is lacking. He observed that even Farm Bureau is recognizing this issue with some new recommendations.

Thompson welcomed the idea for a national hearing on milk pricing, especially as the next Farm Bill is not far off, and these issues need to be on the table early.

But first, there’s an election to get past. It is hoped that after November 3, these issues can be looked at. This has certainly been a difficult year on many fronts for all Americans, and the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee was grateful to speak with the Congressman about their concerns.

Dale and Carol Hoffman of Hoffman Farms took “Vote Whole Milk” yard signs home to Potter County.

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Nestlé pledges $10 mil., becomes DMI’s first Net Zero ‘legacy partner to transform dairy’

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 23, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – On October 9, Dairy Management Inc (DMI) and Nestlé made big announcements. DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy officially unveiled the Net Zero Initiative it calls “an industry-wide effort” to meet 2050 goals for carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality.

On a DMI media call last week, Innovation Center chairman Mike Haddad and others discussed the Net Zero Initiative and the simultaneous announcement of a $10 million commitment and multi-year partnership by Nestlé to support the “scaling” of “access” to environmental practices and resources on farms across the country.

As clarified by Karen Scanlon, senior vice president of sustainability initiatives for DMI, this investment by Nestlé will have a “farm and field focus” and represents a five-year partnership.

Haddad suggested that other companies are looking to invest, including companies from the financial and technology sectors.

Although the press statements talk about the Net Zero Initiative (NZI) as supporting “access” for all farms of all sizes and geographies to meet the industry’s 2050 climate and environmental goals, the details are still sketchy in how this all will translate at diverse farm and industry sector levels.

California dairy producer and DMI vice president Steve Maddox noted that when times are good and producers have a good margin, they like to experiment and invest and test new ideas. He acknowledged that it’s “hard to go green when you’re in the red.”

Maddox said for 2050 goals to be met, technologies and practices have to positively impact the dairy’s bottom-line.

Krysta Harden, executive vice president of global environmental strategies for DMI and former undersecretary of agriculture under Tom Vilsack, noted that the Net Zero Initiative helps with this “affordability.” NZI will identify the pilot farms and test the ideas, the technologies and practices on those farms to show what pays.

She said Nestlé’s $10 million investment make “Nestlé our first legacy partner to come on board to really transform dairy.”

Harden explained that the funds will be used in three key areas: Foundational resources, new products (clarified as manure products), and on-farm practices.

Haddad noted that the financial and tech sectors are reaching out also, and Nestlé has pledged its expertise as well as the financial investment.

“We need capital and technology to do this,” he said. “We also need the experience and expertise of others. We believe Nestlé’s commitment is huge and hope it is the first of several.”

While the nuts and bolts are not clear, it does appear that investments, such as the $10 million from Nestlé, will help pay for the testing and development of technologies and practices on pilot farms.

What happens around that piece is called “scaling up” and “providing access” and “improving profitability,” but without a disclosed road map of how that ‘scaling’ will look to the rest of the non-pilot farms in the U.S.

“We are already talking to pilot farms,” Harden acknowledged. “We like to say that every farmer can do something, and they are already doing a lot. We talk about this at DMI board meetings to see where we are at, and the hands go up, we see that our farmers are already working on the list of things. They are already committed.”

Scanlon gave a little bit of a road map when she noted that there are three “buckets” that the Net Zero Initiative will need investment in order to address the barriers to meeting the 2050 goals:

1) Data and research gaps, the need for more dairy research with quantifiable outcomes,

2) Affordability, the need for economically viable technology and practice solutions so that farmers can make the choices that drive industry success, and

3) Accessibility, to reach scale across the diverse industry in terms of dairy size and geography, to enable farms of all sizes to access the technology and have the support to implement it successfully.

Harden explained there is “no one solution,” that technologies and practices will have to be “adapted” and “make sense.”

She listed the four areas Net Zero practices and technologies are divided into: 1) Feed production, 2) Manure handling and nutrient management, 3) Cow care and production efficiency, and 4) On-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy

According to Harden, “Net Zero is already possible on certain farms. The purpose of NZI is to expand our knowledge and adoption of policies to reduce GHG and water use.”

A bit of history

Haddad, chairman of Schreiber Foods, has been chairman of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy for two years and a member for 10. 

He explained how the Innovation Center got started first as a “globalization initiative” followed by safety and social responsibility initiatives, but that “sustainability” was one of its main active committees from the start in 2008. Haddad said that the Sustainability Committee has operated 12 years under the continuing leadership of its chairman Dr. Mike McCloskey of Select, Fair Oaks and Fairlife.

“The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy was created by DMI (in 2008-09) at the urging of farmers,” said Haddad. 

“DMI wanted to bring together a forum of many stakeholders — dairy farmers, processors, NGOs (like WWF), retailers and foodservice — to function as a voluntary board. Farmers wanted to be connected at the middle level to collaborate with those that sell milk and milk products,” Haddad related.

Today, 27 companies have representation on this board, and over 300 companies are “engaged in the journey, along with our shoppers, citizens and neighbors around the world,” he said.

Globalization first initiative

“It started initially with a globalization initiative,” Haddad explained, adding that even though the current talk in the industry since Covid is about “re-shoring” and local, “we do not exist in an island,” he said.

According to Haddad, the original globalization initiative of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy back in 2008-09 started with the Bain Study. Back then, the Bain Study was touted as showing opportunities for trade.

However, Haddad said Wednesday that the Bain Study — as part of the original Innovation Center globalization initiative — “showed us that we could be informed and enlightened together and raise all boats together pre-competitively.

“The globalization study showed we need to go together. This got into our blood that we can work together on certain platforms and go farther, together than we can go alone,” he said.

By 2015-16, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy had evolved into a “social responsibility platform,” and Haddad said food safety was among the next pieces. Once the industry could see how to collaborate on food safety, the “pre-competitive” techniques were applied to animal care and sustainability.

In other words, the members of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy wanted the industry to first “go together” toward globalization, then food safety, now animal care, for which FARM is the driver, and sustainability, for which Net Zero Initiative is the driver.

“We don’t want to compete with each other in these areas,” said Haddad. “We should only compete on the attributes of our products. We should not be saying ‘mine is safer than yours’ (or more sustainable than yours), because that undermines confidence and trust in dairy.”

Haddad explained that the Innovation Center works closely with National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

Part two continues next week in Farmshine.

DMI integrates the dairy industry through its unified marketing plan and the various nonprofit organizations, alliances, committees and initiatives — beginning with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The IC was formed in 2008-09, launching the industry’s structural drivers beginning with the globalization initiative (Bain Study 2008), then social responsibility (FARM program 2015) and now ‘sustainability’ (Net Zero Initiative 2020). Graphic by Sherry Bunting, source USdairy.com

‘Kids Milk’ project receives checkoff funding, researchers look to remove lactose and whey, add sugar

Does milk need reinventing for kids? USDA and dairy checkoff say yes. Meanwhile kids, parents and experts who’ve studied the issue say… not so fast… just allow the schools to provide whole milk as a choice. Istock photo by Aaron Amat

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, October 16, 2020

ALBANY, N.Y. – As part of the 2021 checkoff funds for Cornell dairy research approved recently by the New York State Dairy Promotion Advisory Board is the first phase (2021-22) of a two-year project to develop and build a “Kids Milk” for schools, foodservice and retail. The first phase is to complete the successful multi-step innovation process (remove lactose and add sugar), and the second phase will be to implement the “future view” (remove whey to improve shelf-stable flavor and reduce transportation cost and refrigeration).

The project was one of 12 presented by Cornell, which is one of five universities that are part of DMI’s Dairy Research Institute (DRI). The DRI was formed as a 501 c 3 non-profit by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy a decade ago in August of 2010.

Reading through this project’s innovation process and vision, in essence, by year two, ‘Kids Milk’ (aka ‘school milk’) could be compositionally the same as the ultrafiltered / microfiltered cheese starter milk that has the lactose and whey removed. In essence large-scale-cheese-vat-ready-milk would be positioned as ‘Kids Milk’ tested and touted as beneficial for children’s taste, tolerance and nutritional reasons, of course. (Think about this within the context of the large-scale cheese processing shifts now occurring in the dairy industry.)

According to the researchers’ slides presented to the NY Board in September, the ‘Kids Milk’ will be stripped of lactose, but then have sucrose (sugar) added in order to “achieve a higher sweetness intensity and achieve higher liking scores without increasing calories from carbohydrates in 1% fat chocolate milk,” for example. A copy of the Cornell researchers’ presentation is available online with the NY Board’s minutes at https://agriculture.ny.gov/dairy/dairy-promotion-order

The ‘Kids Milk’ would also be a high-heat pasteurized, extended shelf-life product, and the second phase talks about making it shelf-stable. In concert with this, another NY checkoff-funded Cornell project, in its second year of research, is determining how to solve off-flavors in extended shelf-life and aseptically-packaged shelf-stable milk products by removing the ‘offending’ whey — with an eye to the school foodservice applications in terms of transport and refrigeration.

The ‘Kids Milk’ research project is jointly sponsored by the NY State Dairy Promotion Advisory Board (checkoff) approving $76,269 per year for the portion conducted at Cornell, along with H.P. Hood and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) funding the portion being conducted at North Carolina State University’s dairy research center. Hood’s contribution is $50,000 per year and DMI’s checkoff contribution is $20,000 to $30,000 per year.

In their presentation of the two-year research and innovation phase (2021-22), the Cornell researchers explained that they have proof of concept as of August 2020 for the first step in the two-step process of removing lactose and adding sugar to replace it. They explain in a power point slide that once they achieve success in the innovation research, they will move to the “view into the future” for ‘Kids Milk,’ using the microfiltration whey-removal research being done simultaneously at North Carolina State.

The “view of the future” for ‘Kids Milk’ is revealing and was described by researchers as follows:

Step 3 – “Increase the protein content by ultrafiltration to have 1% fat and 6 to 7% protein to build mouthfeel, achieve a calcium and protein per serving higher than regular milk, and bring the product to a milk solids-not-fat that would allow it to comply with standard of identity for milk and to be labeled lactose-free ultrafiltered milk.”

Step 4 – “Increase the protein content by ultrafiltration by a combination of ultrafiltration and microfiltration. Microfiltration removes milk derived whey proteins from milk. The milk derived whey proteins have been identified in our research as the ones that cause the objectionable cooked sulfur flavors in the UHT (extended shelf-life) milks. Our goal is to remove these proteins to build a milk that will taste good to children and meet nutrition guidelines while being shelf-stable. This will reduce shipping and distribution costs for milk by reducing the number of deliveries and the need to separate refrigerated delivery to schools.”

Back on August 5, 2020, DMI CEO Tom Gallagher in an ‘open mic’ call addressed the grassroots push to get whole milk back as a choice in U.S. schools. He stated to the farmers, board members and media on that Aug. 5 call that, “Farmers are great, and our product is great… but even if whole milk is eventually recommended for kids, we still need innovation to get it to the kids in a style that they like.”

Voila: ‘Kids Milk.’

Meanwhile, as reported in the August 7, 2020 edition of Farmshine, a simple trial at a middle and high school in Pennsylvania was conducted without fanfare — and anonymously due to USDA ‘milk rules’. It found that teenagers like milk the way it is, without the reinvention. 

In fact, this anonymous 2019-20 trial simply offered all fat percentages of milk, and within the first month, found students choosing whole milk 3 to 1 over the lower fat options. Five months later, students responded favorably to the surveys.

But what was really significant was this: the trial resulted in middle and high school aged students – teenagers! – choosing milk over less healthful competing beverages as revealed by a 65% increase in milk consumption and a 95% decrease in the amount of milk being discarded. Instead of taking the ‘served’ low-fat and fat-free milk (per USDA), throwing it away and buying something else, the students were choosing milk and drinking it!

Whole milk is also shown to be tolerated by many who claim to be lactose-intolerant as the amount of lactose is slightly less when more of the fat is retained, and the fat slows the rate of absorption of the lactose carbohydrate. This finding is both anecdotal and referenced in an official USDA Dietary Guidelines comment by Dr. Richard Theurer, adjunct professor in the Dept. of Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University. In his comment (2018 and 2020-25) to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, he supports a reversal of the DGA’s misguided recommendation that children over age 2 be offered only fat-free and low-fat milk (now required at schools and daycares) instead of the healthy choice of whole milk.

Does milk need to be reinvented with farmer checkoff funds in order to “get it to the kids in a style that they like” as DMI CEO Gallagher suggested during the Aug. 5 open mic call?

Or do students simply need the option of whole milk at school so they can choose what tastes good and is good for them?

Looking at year two of the checkoff-funded Cornell ‘Kids Milk’ project, the presenters own words offer a clue. They described a successful outcome “will reduce shipping and distribution costs for milk by reducing the number of deliveries and the need to separate refrigerated delivery to schools.” 

This look into the ‘Kids Milk’ future reveals the bottom line is the disassembly and extrusion of milk at finer and finer molecular levels to reinvent and build a beverage that fits the increasingly concentrated globalized supply chain of food transformation.

It’s really not about the kids, at all.

Author’s postscript: Think about this in the context of Coca Cola now owning 100% of the fairlife ultrafiltered milk brand and the potential for reducing school milk (‘kids milk’) to the equivalent of milk protein concentrate (MPC) added to sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) for shelf-stable concentrate reconstituted in soda-style — ‘just add water’ — beverage dispensers. Get the picture?

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‘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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‘One plan marching forward’

DMI leaders give Net Zero, ‘sustainability’ overview

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, September 11, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – A month ago, after Farmshine revealed the background of DMI’s new Vice President of Dairy Scale for Good, questions and concerns voiced by dairy farmers led DMI to announce it would have one of its monthly “open mic” calls specifically on the topic of Sustainability and Net Zero Initiative (NZI).

That was Sept. 2, but unlike previous calls, Farmshine was not included among trade media.

This is not surprising because Farmshine has obtained a copy of a communication sent to dairy checkoff board members stating in print that the DMI board has agreed not to engage with Farmshine, stating that Farmshine articles misrepresent their facts.

This position came after two well-sourced articles were published in Farmshine about Caleb Harper, of Vice President Dairy Scale for Good, who was hired by DMI to work with large farms to scale sustainability practices as part of the Net Zero Initiative. The articles revealed concerns about his background in science, funding and future of food philosophy.

Farmshine has obtained a link to the recording of the Sept. 2 open mic call on sustainability that was part of a DMI e-newsletter. However, only 35 minutes of the hour-long call were shared with farmers. The recording was cut at the end of presentations by DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, President Barb O’Brien and Vice President of Sustainability Karen Scanlon.

Thus the recording excluded the 25 minutes of questions and answers, despite Gallagher’s assertion that he would “make sure to get this information into the trade media to communicate with producers and clear up misperceptions that have been perpetrated.”

During the recorded presentations, Gallagher stated that, “The industry — as an industry — has recently made commitments to be carbon-neutral by 2050.”

While he did not get into specifics, he said he wanted dairy farmers to understand the big picture.

He said the dairy checkoff has been involved in this effort 13 years in the role of science, research, and outreach to the supply chain.

Gallagher sought to assure farmers that the first order of business is to “recognize and promote how dairy farmers have been and continue to be stewards of the environment.”

He said the next thing is to make sure consumers and thought leaders understand that sustainability must be profitable for farmers.

He said that the NZI does not mean every dairy plant or every dairy farm will achieve carbon-neutrality. “We want to say that as an industry we are carbon-neutral. That’s our perch,” said Gallagher.

Lastly, he said, “We want to avoid having farms and companies and co-ops use sustainability as a marketing advantage (in competition with each other).

“We should stick together on this, because our competition is others — cell based ag and plant-based beverages — so let’s not beat each other up on this,” said Gallagher.

(Yet DMI hired a key Net Zero employee with ties to cellular agriculture and digital agriculture and funded a new product “innovation” that is half milk and half almond or oat beverage made by DFA in pretty cardboard cartons using buzz terms like “purely perfect blend.”)

“When we went into this 12 to 13 years ago, it was still emerging what sustainability is — and it is still sometimes vague — but from a consumer standpoint, they are focused on sustainability,” said Gallagher.

Later in the call, he stressed the importance of sustainability saying 80% of consumers are focused on it, but then confirmed a bit to the contrary what various consumer surveys show for actual decision-making factors: Number One is still ‘taste,’ followed by number two ‘price,’ and even Gallagher states that nutrition and sustainability are “tied for third.”

He was vague on that nutrition and sustainability distinction and took issue with anyone claiming consumers need more education on dairy nutrition.

“We have these two great components to our story: nutrition and sustainability,” he said, “I don’t care what others are telling you, we have the data and people already do understand the nutritional value of dairy. Sure, we can remind them, but they know it.

“The piece they are not aware of is the sustainable nature of the dairy industry and dairy farming. They don’t get it, and they’ll buy into the notion that plant-based is more environmentally sound because the consumer – especially millennials and Gen-Z – have made their decision… 80% of them expect companies to invest in sustainability in the next year.”

(Or are 80% of consumers being pushed in this direction by top-down supply chain transformation?)

In fact, even though DMI’s sustainability partner World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been scrambling to come up with new ways to tie the globalized ‘sustainability’ agenda to pandemic prevention as a hook that gets to the “health” and “economic” concerns consumers really have…. Gallagher went so far as to say: “Covid has had an interesting impact on millennials, Gen-Z and the next generation because the majority feel that Covid is an example of why we need global, big-picture solutions with companies leading the way.

“Covid is not distracting consumers, it is heightening the stakes,” said Gallagher, right out of the most recent WWF and global re-set playbook seeking to get everything back on their track.

O’Brien mentioned the dynamics that are more at play: large global companies like Nestle, Unilever, Danone and Starbucks making sustainability even more important as a priority.

“We at checkoff are positioning U.S. Dairy as a solution to drive a unified approach,” she said. “The good news is we know dairy is and can be a solution with the growing body of research and practice-based proof and an industry-wide plan. We are ready to re-set what people think they know about dairy.”

O’Brien painted a picture of the global landscape in which U.S. dairy will have less access if it is not unified to show industry-wide measurements of sustainable impacts.

Then it became clear. O’Brien said “This is not just about consumers, but also investor groups. They are setting the criteria for measuring sustainable impacts, and they expect companies to more fully disclose impacts that are tied to their businesses.”

She said trillions of dollars are being invested in businesses that can do that, and she said many countries are making legally-binding country-wide commitments to accelerate, and they emphasize the need for the U.S. to voluntarily report its impacts.

“We see our dairy customers like Unilever, Danone, Nestle and Starbucks working to meet these global goals on carbon neutrality, water use, zero waste and hunger initiatives,” said O’Brien. “They need to know where we are at to help them meet their goals against these sustainability metrics.”

(The World Resources Institute, which is inextricably linked to WWF, along with UN benchmarks, are formulating these metrics – a work in progress since 2009 when DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy first established its sustainability partnership with WWF, according to the WWF website.)

Gallagher said farmers have been at the table on this, and he presented an overview of the “the plan.” He took issue with dairy farmers who are “against globalization” and with strong words, stated: “My answer to that is we did not create globalization, but those are the rules, and it’s the world we are living in… with very powerful forces that are very much against dairy at play here in the U.S.”

(There is a difference between international trade and ‘globalization.’ Globalization is a more centralized order of things affecting aspects of life, health, resources and economies at an international scale.)

Gallagher confirmed that companies will drive this, and he said that consumers want corporations to drive this. He and O’Brien both talked about DMI’s sustainability partnerships began with Walmart in 2007.

Where the plan meets the farm, Gallagher said the Net Zero Initiative has three categories: Large farms, medium sized farms, and small farms.

“We’re doing something for each of those. Some staff (Caleb Harper) are focused solely on large farms looking at technologies to see if they are financially sustainable,” said Gallagher. “And we have folks working on mid-sized and small farms too. Our focus is the research, and some of our efforts will be foundational to support all farms.”

He introduced Karen Scanlon, DMI’s vice president of sustainability who said dairy’s diversity is a key in the Net Zero Initiative.

“There is no one right way, no prescription on how to achieve our environmental outcomes along with profitability,” said Scanlon. “We are focusing right now on learning what farmers are already doing, and helping to share that with more farmers, so farmers can learn from each other.

“We also want to work with farmers and supply chain partners on demonstration projects to highlight successful technologies, practices and approaches,” said Scanlon.

She mentioned two examples – one in Wisconsin and one in southeastern Pennsylvania as well as talks with producer organizations in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest – where farmers and their cooperatives and other supply chain partners are already doing things that DMI can come in and be part of to find ways to cost-share the ideas to increase adoption among more farms.

“Founded by dairy farmers 12 years ago through checkoff, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy put us at the table and we find common ground and set a common set of principles that is a difference maker in the supply chain,” said O’Brien.

She went back to a summit with Walmart in 2007, which led to a deepening of the relationship over time. More recently, in 2018, DMI had a similar ‘summit’ with Amazon and that partnership is underway with DMI as category captain.

“Today Walmart proactively uses the FARM program’s animal care and environmental modules. They are using our programs with farms they contract directly,” said O’Brien, adding that DMI starts with relationships and brings in other companies to align with that. She and Gallagher stressed that dairy checkoff now has a “unified Net Zero plan in place and is coordinating with other industry organizations.”

“There is one plan marching forward with each industry organization playing their own unique role,” said O’Brien. She explained that DMI is engaged in science and outreach to the supply chain and telling the dairy story; NMPF is focused on legislative and regulatory as well as on-farm environmental stewardship; Newtrient is focused on viable technologies and practices to produce new revenue streams; and US Dairy Export Council is focused on export markets and aligning targets with DMI’s thinking on measurement and progress.

“What we have created for dairy farmers over the last decade is ready as sustainability increasingly becomes a requirement for doing business,” said O’Brien. “We must continue to lead in this.”

Before opening it up to questions for the last 25 minutes of the call – which were not shared in the DMI newsletter recording – Gallagher told everyone on the open mic call that this was a 30,000-foot view and if they want more details, DMI could do another open mic call on the topic or find other ways to communicate.

How data analytics, supply chain ‘ecosystems’ fit DMI’s global strategy for U.S. Dairy

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher shared this slide with August ‘open mic’ call participants as consumer data confirm a current focuse on health and economics — even though global supply chain transformation is pursued on an accelerating scale.

By Sherry Bunting, excerpts summarized from Farmshine, August 21 and 28, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. — Early in the pandemic, consumers were initially focused on health drivers in food purchases and then began moving toward economics. But with the resurgence of Covid cases across the country, data insights show “consumers are now back to a focus on health again,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

Consumer insights and purchasing patterns pre- and post-Covid were discussed in an early August DMI ‘open mic’ call with Gallagher, as well as DMI president Barb O’Brien, board chair Marilyn Hershey and Inmar Intelligence CEO David Mounts.

Health and value were expressed as big opportunities for dairy. But the underlying message of food transformation was also clear in the discussion of how consumer data analytics and supply chain ‘ecosystems’ are integrated and streamlined to fit the dairy checkoff’s global strategy for the future of ‘U.S. Dairy’ — including new product innovation and the relationship DMI now has as Amazon’s dairy ‘category captain’.

Gallagher sent graphs indicating the percentage of change in fluid milk sales rising during the Coronavirus pandemic corresponds with increased sales of cereal.

“We think this is important, showing there are multiple reasons — no one reason why — during ‘panic buying’ consumers bought what they bought,” he said. “Cereal and milk have historically been tied. Cereal has been on a decline for years.”

Gallagher noted that as more people eat breakfast at home, new opportunities are presented beyond cereal and milk.

“This is an opportunity for us for innovation and marketing,” said Gallagher. “One of the reasons we lost fluid milk consumers is that their spending away from home was a big percentage on breakfast, and the white gallon is not suited to that.”

He said new breakfast ideas are coming out. For example, Kraft is getting into the breakfast game with new “breakfast mac and cheese.”

Gallagher also stressed a statistic he looks at, which is the “velocity” of money.

“This is simply the rate of spending and saving. Americans are at the lowest rate of spending since the 1950s and 60s,” he said, explaining that savings rates show a second reason for opportunity as Americans are on more of a savings trend since the pandemic.

“If we can get into the ‘right product’ and the ‘right positioning’ and the ‘right marketing’, people will want our product, and we’ve got that, but innovation needs to be done too,” said Gallagher. “As the unemployment rates ease, the money will be there for people to pay a little more (for innovative products).”

Dairy positioning for in-home meals is something the industry has not seen for decades, said Gallagher. He explained that before Covid, 10% of consumers were eating at home 90% of the time. After Covid, 50% of consumers were eating at home 90% of the time. More people eating at home — even after Covid — presents “huge new opportunities for us,” he said.

E-commerce was highlighted as one of those opportunities.

“Change is happening in an ‘omnichanneled’ world,” said David Mounts of Inmar Intelligence. He described media networks, digital networks for in-store, curbside, delivery and online, and how Amazon is integrating all of these as not just a retailer, but also a merchant, a media company and data company in the ‘strike zone’ of everyday business.

“We saw this opportunity a few years back and did a program on home delivery that was extremely successful,” Gallagher reported.

O’Brien noted that this gave DMI the experience to work with Amazon.

“E-commerce will change the supply chain,” she said. “As of June 14, internet purchasing surged 70%, so we are pleased we anticipated that growth, and now we see Covid has accelerated it.”

DMI has been working with Amazon for two years. Then, a year ago, Amazon named DMI as dairy “category captain.” Since then, DMI has been helping Amazon “navigate the whole dairy category with dairy 101 for their entire grocery leadership team,” O’Brien explained. “From the beginning, we were able to position ourselves as category experts and brand agnostic. We gave them a deep dive into each sector, and in the end, demonstrated the dairy category as a driver.”

As category captain, DMI will work deeper into Amazon’s e-commerce business across 31 sales regions to identify sources and tie consumer shopping experiences online through a promotion portal that puts it right at the internet point of purchase and can measure consumer response.

DMI will work with MilkPEP and other partners on this, she said.

“It was important to first prove the size and value of dairy to Amazon, where placing their investments,” said O’Brien. “Because competition is stiff in plant-based allocation, we now have been able to come back with data, with proof of what dairy can do for their business, so we think opportunities will continue.”

Mounts also highlighted e-commerce.

“This is a time for digital transformation to accelerate in the retail environment,” he said. “The entire retail industry got caught under-invested in digital readiness for what happened in this pandemic. Now massive resources across the retail industry are in catch-up mode.”

‘Real time’ consumer shopping data during the pandemic was also shared by David Mounts of InMar Analytics during the recent ‘open mic’ call. Slide from presentation

Inmar’s analytics show consumer behavior has changed to fewer trips to the store, buying more at each trip with total retail sales up 10% over year ago and some dairy categories up by more than that. Retail sales of fluid milk have settled in at 4 to 5% over year ago and butter up 46%, for example.

Total supermarket baskets are up 15% per trip, and the number of trips are down 6% right through end of July, “so this is real time data,” said Mounts.

Online shopping spiked 6 times higher than year ago in March and is up 2 to 3 times over year ago for the year to date.

Mounts said the number of people who have registered to be online grocery shoppers is increasing at rates of 100%, with the majority seeking value and savings as priorities.

“Consumers are also thinking about in-home health and wellness, ways to boost immunity and stay healthy,” said Mounts.

“Dairy is such a positive for consumers in retail. It is a core part of strong at-home food sales,” Mounts observed. “Dairy is an anchor for at-home meal planning and stock-up trips, and its always part of every shopping list.

“That’s where we think the opportunity exists — right now — as consumers shift from list-buying to ‘solutioning,’ and the occasion now is one that requires planning and thoughtfulness to have more value,” he explained.

Meanwhile, as retailers have been transitioning through their supply issues, “they are understanding new in-home categories and assortments to be more dynamic,” he said. They are being more data-driven to be more agile.”

At the same time, he said “manufacturers are focusing on their core — their most productive products — and are streamlining and trimming.”

These trends set the stage for a more centralized, streamlined and globalized dairy supply chain at a time when consumers are showing they want to be more – not less – connected to where their food comes from and to know more about the nutritional benefits.

“Consumers will deal with fewer players,” said Mounts, emphasizing the point that, “The mindset of the consumer, retailer and manufacturer must adapt to set the right priorities.”

Those priorities are being set within the tools of technology. According to Mounts, investment in technology and data tools support the strategic pillars of DMI and its partners, which Gallagher said are geared for dairy to be “viewed as an industry leader setting the gold standard on environment and animal treatment, and fitting into the efficient and healthy lifestyles of consumers.”

Searchable apps for phones, in-home voice activation systems tied to marketing outlets, namely Amazon, these tools “bring consumer preferences and marketing targets together for effective campaigns that demonstrate super strong value to consumers,” Mounts explained. “By connecting data into such platforms, the advantage for advertisers is they see it generate sales.”

But the conversations will change, and the level of personalization will increase in the food sector around the data, according to Mounts. “The digital assets are more efficient, and you talk directly to people you want to speak with and are going where the buying audience is to capture them.”

“That’s where we need to be,” said Gallagher. “This is the information the industry looks to DMI to share and will be used to create partnerships with industry.

“We won’t get the drinker or eater back if we do not do these things,” he asserts. “Farmers are great and we have a great product, but it still requires innovation. Until whole milk is recommended for kids, and even when it is, we still need innovation to get it to the kids in a style that they like.”

Mounts said innovation is a “team sport, and the key to speeding it up is to create the ecosystem, the environment, that inspires others to come in and bring solutions.”

Where dairy farmers are most familiar with the production playing field, Gallagher sees DMI as the entity that expands the dairy supply chain ecosystem to bring in other resources globally. In short, DMI has identified itself as U.S. Dairy’s supply-chain integrator and expander. Gallagher said checkoff partnerships are regional, national and international — along with the industry and National Milk Producers Federation.

“Working together as one is our hope for the future,” Gallagher insisted. “If we do not have that unity, then we are small players in a big marketplace.”

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Better late than never: Dairy industry makes last-minute pitch for whole fat dairy, but….

“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid. A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children,” said Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research for National Dairy Council in his oral comment during Tuesday’s webcast hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Photo is a webcast screenshot

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 14, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The highlight of this week’s webcast oral public comment hearing on the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines was the last-minute pitch for whole milk by the National Dairy Council, National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association.

All three pointed to the benefits of dairy – regardless of fat percentage – and cited positive research about milkfat. However, they stopped short of asking for a relaxation on saturated fat limits, seeking instead for USDA to “fit” one serving of whole fat dairy into daily guidelines for healthy eating patterns, saying dairy fat is “complex” and “unique.”

Meanwhile, other organizations as well as private citizens asked for a review of the evidence on saturated fats, seeking relaxation of those limits to include more animal foods in the government’s recommended healthy eating patterns.

Interestingly, ADA Northeast was the very first of nearly 80 commenters accepted onto the public hearing style agenda but made no mention of whole milk or full-fat dairy. In fact, ADA Northeast’s oral comment did not mention anything about the Guidelines. Instead, their comment set the stage for future dairy products by focusing exclusively on food insecurity and how fresh milk and dairy products present nutrition-access issues due to refrigeration and transportation.

At the outset of the five-hour webcast, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps, said the DGA Committee’s Scientific Report is the first step in developing the official Guidelines. His department “co-develops” the Guidelines with the Committee and with Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention.

Lipps described their work as being focused on ending both hunger and obesity through guidelines administered via programs like WIC, SNAP and school lunches.

He thanked the DGA Committee for their “16 months of robust, rigorous and thorough review of the science,” and he noted the public comments numbered over 62,000 throughout those 16 months — a 6000% increase compared with the 970 comments received in the 2015-20 DGA cycle.

When the DGA Scientific Report was published July 15 online, there were 10,000 downloads of the document within the first four hours. The final public comment period underway until August 13 already has thousands of comments in this final phase, according to Lipps, who said public participation was “a key part of the process,” with “increased transparency and new steps for public involvement from the beginning.”

“The Dietary Guidelines are the cornerstone of all federal nutrition policy, including WIC, school lunch and breakfast, SNAP and our food distribution programs,” said Lipps. “We take our work on these Guidelines very seriously.”

A new communications page will be developed for this next and final phase of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines process as USDA and HHS pick up the reins.

Also offering eye-opening comments from USDA was Dr. Scott Hutchinson, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Research, Education and Economics. This mission area of USDA is comprised of the Ag Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Ag Statistics Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

He mentioned the current pandemic exposing the urgency of improving the nutrition of Americans because obesity and diabetes are co-morbidities with Coronavirus.  

Hutchinson referenced a recent USDA “core component food and nutrition report” that focuses on reducing obesity and diabetes.

He said USDA research is moving toward a “personalized approach to nutrition from a genetic perspective.”

This comment confirms the direction of the federal government through USDA, FDA and HHS in the ‘designer’ or ‘digital’ food frontier, and he said the most important work will be how to “translate” Dietary Guidelines to the public.

“We as humans have the unique ability to choose our dietary path based on our values,” said Hutchinson. “These Guidelines are important so we can make sure all Americans have the opportunity to choose a dietary path with knowledge.”

During the comments presented by 78 members of the public, most representing organizations, the battle lines were clearly drawn between those wanting to reduce consumption of protein, fat and animal foods and those wanting to see healthy eating patterns that include more of the science on dietary animal fat and protein.

Several presenters noted simply that the Guidelines process is not up to par as the number of Americans with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, has grown to a substantial majority since the 1980s when the DGA process began.

Representing checkoff-funded National Dairy Council was scientific Moises Torres-Gonzalez, vice president of nutrition research. He thanked the Committee for continuing to recommend the consumption of dairy foods at all life stages, for the nutrients of concern they deliver. But he also observed that the Report mentions how limits on fat could depend on the fatty acid profile of the food.

“I have been drinking whole fat dairy since I was a kid,” he said. “A glass of whole milk was the first thing my mother used to feed me in the morning, and I continue doing so. She was dedicated to nourishing her children.”

Specifically, Torres-Gonzalez, representing National Dairy Council, asked for Guidelines that allow one daily serving of whole fat dairy (as part of the 3-a-day dairy), stating that this can still fit within the DGA Committee’s calories and saturated fat limits.

As a scientist, he said, “emerging evidence indicates that consuming whole dairy fat in a healthy eating pattern is not negatively linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes or weight gain.”

In fact, the research shows beneficial associations for dairy fat in managing or preventing chronic health conditions, he said.

Torres-Gonzalez explained that dairy fat is the most complex fat occurring in a food, and that this complexity might help explain the neutral to beneficial findings regarding milk fat. He confirmed that NDC’s written comment showcases the body of research on this topic.

“Allowing the option to offer both whole and reduced-fat dairy foods in healthy eating patterns would give Americans more chance to meet the nutrient recommendations, which most Americans are not going to meet. The health effect can rely on absorption,” he said. “Dairy foods – regardless of fat levels – are an important source of nutrients in the American diet, and whole fat (3.25%) and reduced-fat (2%) milk can fit within the calorie package of a healthy eating pattern.”

For its part, dairy checkoff-funded American Dairy Association Northeast focused their comments completely on food insecurity and accessibility.

LaChell Miller, nutrition specialist for ADA Northeast, kicked things off by highlighting the dairy checkoff’s 2012 partnership with Feeding America, and the refrigeration, distribution and transportation challenges fresh dairy foods pose for hunger relief organizations.

While offering no comments on the nutritional role of dairy, or the benefits of whole milk in a healthy eating pattern, Miller’s entire statement on behalf of ADA Northeast was about the concern that Dietary Guidelines are often not achievable for all Americans because fresh milk and dairy are hard to distribute.

“Keep food access in mind as you develop these guidelines for 2020-25,” she said.

Representing the nation’s milk cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) applauded the DGA Committee for maintaining low-fat and non-fat dairy in meal patterns and maintaining dairy as an essential food group. NMPF’s comment also noted that, “The Committee fell short in recognizing the newer science on the matrix of fat in dairy foods. NMPF urged the USDA to review the scientific literature, and just last week, pushed out an online method for using their talking points to comment on the Dietary Guidelines docket.

National Milk joined ADA Northeast in highlighting the concern about food insecurity and access to healthy, affordable food, stating that “dairy foods are the most nutrient-rich and budget-friendly source of essential nutrition.”

While not making it onto the restricted number of “oral commenters” permitted on the Aug. 11 USDA / HHS hearing agenda, the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and 97 Milk LLC have gathered comments from hundreds of people along with the 25,000+ Whole Milk in Schools Petition signatures. They posted an 1,125-page packet to the Federal Register Docket by the August 13, 2020 deadline. These two Whole Milk 97% Fat Free education and advocacy efforts have been commenting and pushing forward the petition at every interval over the past 16 months of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee process, including sending letters to members of Congress in leadership positions as well as the Secretaries of USDA and HHS, and issuing calls to action on social media for others to do the same.

To be continued

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DMI circles wagons around new ‘Net-Zero’ hire

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, August 7, 2020

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. – After last week’s Farmshine cover story, dairy producers across the country have been reaching out to DMI board members and staff seeking answers to questions posed about the Net Zero Initiative, direction of sustainability goals, and the newly hired Executive Director of Dairy Scale for Good, Caleb Harper. He was tapped in May to lead the effort to ‘scale up’ technologies for “U.S. Dairy” to meet its commitment, despite his history of involvement in cellular agriculture and other concerns.

DMI has not yet responded to the questions posed by Farmshine. However, producers are getting some responses. During Wednesday’s “open mic” call with DMI CEO Tom Gallagher, the topic was addressed at the top of the hour to indicate a future “open mic” would be devoted to this topic.

“We’ve been getting questions,” said DMI chairwoman Marilyn Hershey as she opened the call Wednesday. She referred the 350 people on the line — including 50 board members, 80 dairy farmers, along with media and staff — to her blog post at usdairy.com.

“The Net Zero Initiative has pathways for all size farms to be able to stand behind our sustainability goals,” she said.

“Our next ‘open mic’ will focus on sustainability because there is a lot going on in that arena. There is misinformation and good information, and we want to get the details and have National Milk and Newtrient — a company of dairy co-ops and people from the Innovation Center — on where we are going and why,” said Gallagher.

“The industry is focused on being net-zero, but profitable net-zero. That is something that will take time and hard work to get to. We are focused on all size farms — not just large, medium, or small — and on all regions,” he stated. “We know each region has different challenges.

“Most of the small farms are probably net-zero already,” he said.

Gallagher explained that DMI recently added several people in different parts of the organization. “One (new person) is Caleb Harper, and we are really glad to be able to attract him,” said Gallagher.

“We know Caleb is completely a dairy guy. Let’s face it,” said Gallagher. “Cell ag and other competitors are getting well-funded. Caleb is a smart guy, a guy who is pro dairy. He understands the playbook of the other team, so we are miles ahead.”

In the blog post callers were asked to read for answers, Hershey writes: “Caleb Harper joined our team in May to lead Dairy Scale for Good. Caleb is a former principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He has a tremendous background of leading engineers, scientists and educators in the exploration and development of future food systems and technology.”

Hershey goes on to describe his responsibilities as “directing best practice and technology adoption and implementation on a handful of pilot farms. Harper will also develop third-party strategies to generate investments, partners and technologies that will keep farmers from bearing the entire commitment of this endeavor.”

Harper has already been visiting dairy farms in the Southwest and Upper Midwest after his first-ever dairy farm visit to Fair Oaks Farm.

Both in the blog post, and in other responses made in writing to producers from DMI staff, Harper is described as “coming from a family that raises horses and goats on a small ranch in Texas and crops and cows on a fifth-generation homestead in Kansas.”

What isn’t mentioned is that, according to a Sept. 2019  Chronicles of Higher Education story, Harper’s father, Steve Harper, was a grocery executive, actually Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Fresh Product Development, Procurement and Merchandising from 1993 to 2010 for the H-E-B supermarket chain in Texas and northern Mexico, among the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. in sales. He stayed on part-time through 2012 before retiring in 2015.

H-E-B was the first and longstanding partner of Mike and Sue McCloskey, when they were dairying in New Mexico and founded Select Milk Producers. They were working to get closer to the consumer, and the H-E-B alliance was instrumental, Sue explained in her presentation at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2020, where she painted a picture of dairy’s future as seen by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and its food industry partners.

In fact, according to the Houston Chronicle, the McCloskeys worked with H-E-B, supplying their milk and in 1996 to produce Mootopia ultrafiltered milk, an H-E-B brand. This was the pre-cursor to fairlife, the ultrafiltered milk beverage line in which DMI partnered with the McCloskeys, Select, and Coca Cola to market and R&D. (On Jan. 3, 2020, the Coca-Cola Company announced it was sole owner of fairlife LLC after acquiring the remaining stake from its joint venture partner Select Milk Producers.)

Both Caleb Harper and Mike McCloskey currently serve on WWF’s “Markets Institute” Thought Leadership Group.

Hershey writes of Caleb Harper’s involvement in several non-profit organizations, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Economic Forum, as an explorer for National Geographic, and at New Harvest (www.new-harvest.org), a cellular agriculture research institute, which has provided research funding to such startups as Perfect Day.

Meanwhile WWF — the DMI sustainability partner — will stop at nothing in its quest for food transformation away from animal use. WWF is currently using the Coronavirus pandemic and “threat of zoonotic diseases jumping from animals to humans” as the angle for pushing food transformation, with a “stop the next pandemic” campaign at the WWF website stating: “The conversion of land for unsustainable agricultural and livestock use drives wildlife, domestic animals, and humans in closer contact.”

Both New Harvest and WWF support and advocate for rewilding of lands as farms and ranches fold under the pressure of low prices, rapid consolidation, misinformation used to position new plant-based and cellular ag products as future of food replacements for meat, eggs and dairy, using climate change, sustainability and now pandemic fears to prepare people to accept these bio-engineered versions grown in fermentation vats and bio-reactors instead of farms and ranches.

“While (New Harvest) goes against the essence of who we are as farmers, and Caleb no longer serves on its board, his knowledge and insights in this area will be an asset,” writes Hershey. “I am very excited about Caleb’s ability to open new doors for dairy. He brings an astounding depth of relationships with other scientists, organizations and companies.”

New Harvest is more than a “cellular agriculture research institute.” It’s mission is to replace cattle and other livestock by growing portions of animals, separating protein excrement from yeast, and other ‘genetically altered and digitized” methods of displacing farmers and ranchers from the land. In 2017 and 2018, Harper was one of five board members for New Harvest. In fact, though canceled due to Covid, the New Harvest 2020 Conference was scheduled for the M.I.T. Lab in Cambridge, Mass., where Harper was a lead researcher until April 30, 2020.

In her blog post, Hershey writes that, “Earlier this year, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy set new environmental stewardship goals to further the progress and commitment that dairy farmers and the broader dairy community have to responsible production.”

She describes it as a “collective effort” expected to benefit all farms with a pathway for farms to voluntarily contribute. She writes that it will not be mandatory. Instead, she notes that it will provide opportunities for farms of all sizes to adopt technologies and practices and create revenue streams.

Stay tuned.

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Fair Oaks, fairlife co-founder paints picture of dairy’s future as seen by partner DMI

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By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, February 14, 2020

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The big question Sue McCloskey gets about fairlife is “How did you think of it?”

As co-founder with her husband Mike of Select Milk Producers, Fair Oaks Farms and the fairlife brand, McCloskey spoke about “the spark of innovation” to a crowd of over 500 at the 2020 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in State College last Thursday, Feb. 6. She was among the featured speakers that were sponsored by ADA Northeast.

“We are all innovators in agriculture,” said McCloskey, telling how they learned of reverse osmosis when a well on their New Mexico dairy backed up 25 years ago, and RO membranes were used to separate solids to restore water quality. That experience introduced them to the concept of filtering solids by molecular size, but her larger message was about the concept of innovation in allowing companies to differentiate in a generic category like milk.

For example, she said, who would think, years ago, that water would become the multi-billion-dollar industry that it is today? And coffee? She cited Starbucks as a catalyst for the rise of coffee houses and coffee drinks and blends today.

As in these examples, someone was the first innovator to bring value to those generic categories. She said for milk, the parallel is fairlife.

“Innovation – thinking outside the box — that’s what grabs people,” she said.

McCloskey maintains that as consumers, “We are all waiting for the next new thing. We want more. We want new. That’s where we have seen success with fairlife.”

The journey

McCloskey talked about her husband’s journey from being a dairy veterinarian to a dairy producer and innovator. They started with 300 cows in California and a partner they still have today in Tim DenDulk. One by one they bought dairies, fixed them up and rolled them over.

Once they got to New Mexico with a 3000-cow dairy, that was the real beginning of it, she said. That’s where they founded Select Milk Producers 25 years ago, which is today the sixth largest cooperative on a milk volume basis with 99 members.

They formed to focus on high quality milk with low somatic cell counts and to sell that concept direct to retailers instead of being part of a co-op that commingled their milk to blend-down the somatic cell counts. That’s where they were introduced, she says, to the concept of what has become fairlife through the use of RO membranes to ultrafilter the milk. She explained that the milk going in must be very low in somatic cell counts because the process of ultrafiltration concentrates the solids – including somatic cells.

She pointed to the “incredible success” of building different plants and beginning to build the fairlife brand, which led them to their next opportunity in the Midwest – Fair Oaks Farms.

When the McCloskeys came to Indiana, DenDulk, their original partner in California, was already in Michigan.

McCloskey said the housing technology had developed by that time to where they felt they could do larger dairies in the Midwest climate. They built the first of the original four 2800-cow dairies in 1999. Today, there are 13 separate dairies totaling over 36,000 cows that are owned and managed by a few families on the roughly 30,000 acres, including the new 800-cow robotic dairy that opened at the end of 2019.

In fact, she spent part of her time talking about the innovations coming out of Fair Oaks to recycle and recover nutrients and to address greenhouse gas emissions to improve the “sustainability” and carbon footprint of dairy.

“There are cool things happening and things we are doing that we really need to embrace,” she said.

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(Sue’s husband Mike, who spoke in March at the PDPW virtual business conference on U.S. Dairy’s goals for GHG emissions, was the first chairman of the Sustainability Initiative when it was launched under DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2009-10, and the checkoff’s research and development and marketing assistance for fairlife and Fair Oaks came from DMI through the Innovation Center where such partnerships are born.)

The process

Establishing fluid milk supply relationships with large retailers like H-E-B and Kroger, McCloskey said they have worked over two decades to move closer to consumers as they began using RO and ultrafiltration as early as 1995 to reduce the water moving loads of milk to cheese plants, while at the same time beginning the high protein, low sugar milk proposition partnering with H-E-B in Mootopia in 1996, before what is fairlife today.

They saw other protein drinks in the market they could compete with – by concentrating the protein in milk.

So began the process of building the brand from coast to coast as new products have been added continually. While most people are familiar with fairlife ultrafiltered milk, the CorePower fitness recovery drink was among the first that was created as a competitor for Muscle Milk.

Today, there are flavored Yup drinks, snack drinks that pair ultrafiltered milk with oats and honey, new coffee creamers, and a full line of weight management and healthy lifestyle products that are just emerging under the fairlife brand.

While Select Milk Producers sold its remaining half-interest in fairlife to its early partner Coca-Cola a few weeks ago, McCloskey remains a spokesperson for the brand. Also, the research and development teams remain intact and are still located in Chicago.

The spotlight

What Coca-Cola did for fairlife, said McCloskey, is to provide a nationwide distribution network that the Select co-op could not have achieved on its own.

“The hardest thing in consumer goods is to get a product in front of the people who want to buy it,” said McCloskey. “Our challenge was distribution. So, we formed a partnership with Coca-Cola. With Coca-Cola as 100% owner of fairlife, what happens now is that they are just going to run with it.”

This means that, “Milk is in the spotlight. While we hear the bad news from Dean’s and Borden, the good news is that the Coca-Cola, a top-five company, is involved in milk,” said McCloskey.

With an ultrafiltration plant producing fairlife in Michigan, she explained that the east coast and midwestern markets could be served and that the new Select plant in Arizona will serve the west coast market. A plant is also being built in Canada.

Answering a question about whether fairlife, or this direction of milk innovation, would ever “play ball” with the smaller average size farms in Pennsylvania, she replied that any milk supply for fairlife must be very low in somatic cell counts and will have to meet with flying colors all of the new levels of audits and animal welfare requirements that Select Milk Producers and Coca-Cola have implemented since the undercover animal abuse video at McCloskey’s original farm at Fair Oaks this past summer.

When asked how producers are compensated for these additional measures, she did not disclose proprietary information about how producers are paid.

The proposition

She said the fairlife story shows “there is still room for investment and innovation in milk, innovation that makes milk relevant to consumers.”

McCloskey explained how the ultrafiltration process raises the protein and calcium levels, removes the lactose and reduces the natural sugars in milk without adding anything.

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“And it is still real milk… but better,” she says, explaining that fairlife is finding “amazing growth in differentiation,” that fairlife’s entire proposition to consumers is the concept of  “believe in better.”

“Our core tenets of the master brand are better taste, better nutrition, and better values,” she said.

“The brand is created around values, and these values are not new, but they are done in a way that is a little more creative to today’s consumers.”

She explained that Select Milk Producers sends milk that goes into a jug at Krogers and sends milk to fairlife, “but it’s the innovation and sharing the values that leads to growth.”

Sharing consumer surveys showing 90% of fairlife consumers are satisfied and 69% are repeat customers, McCloskey said this growth and innovation “mean bigger things for dairy than just fairlife.”

She said that 45% of the fairlife market share is coming from within the milk category and 55% of their consumers are coming over from outside of the milk category.

While fairlife’s ultrafiltration process is patented, McCloskey said a dozen new products have come on the market since fairlife that use similar technology or other means of delivering high protein, low sugar outcomes.

This allows these products to differentiate themselves next to the gallon of milk as a generic staple, she explained.

“If someone is on food stamps and can’t afford these new products, that’s okay,” McCloskey said. “They can buy milk. People will still buy milk.”

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The next phase

McCloskey stressed the “tremendous value checkoff organizations bring to dairy farmers to promote how to innovate dairy and make it better.”

She explained the next phase, how DMI is sitting down with young urban-suburban consumers to “learn how they make food choices, to learn what they look for. This is leading us into sustainability and carbon footprint,” said McCloskey.

“We also sit down with the different NGO’s (like World Wildlife Fund for example). We all sit at the table and talk about the challenges that face dairy farmers,” said McCloskey. “The Net Zero Initiative coming out of that is one of the coolest things, and we are a collaborator on what is needed for dairy to get to net zero. It’s a big stake in the ground, but it’s got to be the place where we need to go.”

She explained the Net Zero Initiative under DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has a catalog of technologies to help producers deal with environmental issues.

“What if 37,000 dairy farmers could have net zero greenhouse gas emissions? This is what we have to chase,” she said. “The innovation can’t stop. The whole genome of the dairy cow has been mapped. Manure can be fractionated. There is innovation that is so exciting for us to think about what dairy can look like in the future.”

The forward-looking picture McCloskey painted for Summit attendees includes even more fractionization and extraction of milk’s elements, more use of specialized GMO crops and more consolidation of farms and processors with fewer cows producing more milk to meet new sustainability benchmarks.

McCloskey said the innovation from fluid milk to cheese to fractionating protein into “all kinds of other products” — while reducing the overall dairy carbon footprint — is the road to 2050.

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The ‘perfect laboratory’

“We have only begun to know milk’s power and the different vitamins and elements we are just discovering how to use and extract,” she said.

“And it all happens in nature’s perfect laboratory – the dairy cow.”

On the flip side, McCloskey acknowledged that DMI has also learned consumer choices come back to this bottom line:

“It’s got to taste good and it’s got to do something for me,” she noted. “This is why dairy is not going away. Dairy is real and it tastes great and it makes you feel good.”

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